It was too hot to eat anything hot last night.  Farro (get it you’ll love it) with fresh basil, raw garlic, raw red tomatoes and a good solid pour of olive oil.  Salt and pepper, and that’s it.  Made a braising liquid with onion, celery, garlic clove, thyme and parsley, touch of white wine. Let that go 15 minutes, before adding carrot spears til tender\crisp, then after carrots were done, zucchini spears in the same liquid.  Served them with caper mayo.  Start with an egg yolk, whisk in lemon juice, s&p, fresh parsely, tiny bit of mint, then oil drop by drop until emulsified.  Another salad of bibb lettuce, toasted walnuts and pecorino stagianto with a little shallot, olive oil, lemon and salt.  Just in case hunger was deep, a frittata with roasted yellow peppers and new onions, dash of fresh parsley, salt and pepper.  Chocolate cake for dessert with cream and dallop of orange marmalade with a little vin santo stirred in. 

Job location for tomorrow: Italy

I have just eaten most of the pint of Ben and Jerry’s cheesecake brownie in the freezer; I can’t recommend it. Tastes like styrofoam trays. When I get to the point of not being able to remember if I forgot anything I always feel cold hard sugar is the only way forward. I have my whisk packed, menus, my passport and clean clothes. I am pretty sure all I have to do is remember to go to bed tonight and take 50 cupcakes to the school tomorrow.

Weak kneed for beet greens

It’s not every girl that’s going to lose it for a leaf. At my last job I was shopping for root vegetables to roast–yellow beets, red beets, shallots and fingerling potatoes–when I fell in love like the floor was made of quicksand, with the full, fresh, dark green leaves all striped up with jewel red stems springing from their dusty globes.  When I got to work I sliced them right above the root and then dropped them into bags to take home with me later.  Some people could see this as a problem–like my  husband for instance.  “Why do you have to pack up the trash and bring it home in a taxi?”  Fair enough.

I try to think on the bright side about my feelings for vegetable cuttings. Lunch the next day:  Half an onion cut up into a tiny dice, a handful of flat leaf parsley, two basil leaves, one garlic clove, sauteed until completely tender and ready for more with salt and a grind of freshly ground black pepper.  One bunch of beet green leaves, stripped of their stems and roughly chopped, added to the onions along with homemade stock and one tiny, peeled potato for body.  When the leaves are satin and smooth, (about 7 minutes) throw in a box of baby peas, a good pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, and cover.  Let it all go until the potatoes are soft.  Off the heat, blend with a boat motor blender right in the pan, then taste for lemon juice and salt.  Give it a tiny drizzle of your best olive oil, and right in the center, a spoon of fresh pesto.  Serve with parmesan shavings on the side.

The “I don’t care” Look

I swore to God and to Nilsa Marquez when I was fifteen that I would never be one of those women who didn’t care if they had a bra on or not, would go out of the house with no makeup and if they owned an iron, didn’t use it. This morning I put on a pair of jeans I had cut into shorts with my kitchen scissors a few days ago, because it was too hot to wear long pants. In a sweat, I had whipped them off, laid them on the counter over Ferdie’s packed lunch and eyeballed the slash across. I put my sweatshirt on over my pajama top–more than enough to cover up my hardly noticeable and braless boobs, wound my hair up, stuck a pencil in there to keep it up and went out to walk the dog. I don’t care.
Basically, when you’re fifteen, busy as you might be, you have too much time on your hands.
In fact, if you have a fifteen year old in the house, put them in charge of dinner. I’ll bet that school band members will come over on a Tuesday and serenade the family for the appetizer hour. There will be name cards at each place on the table and homemade cloth napkins wrapped with recycled and painted paper towel tubes.   In case you don’t have a teenage crafter cook at home: think grilled meats with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil when they’re done, pastas with pesto, or quick sauteed vegetables with garlic and fresh herbs, rice and beans with a smashed avocado and a salad and bowls of summer berries. I made a pesto as soon as I got home from the grocery store–3 cups of fresh basil leaves, a handful of parmesan, a smashed garlic clove, a handful of pine nuts, and a good spill of good olive oil–all ground up in the food processor in about 2 minutes with salt and pepper. On the side, a salad of grated raw beet, grated apple and a little minced shallot with a mustard vinaigrette, and steamed string beans with olive oil and salt. I do care; I do, I do, I do.

The mad, the maddening, and the meat

Every week, when I check the price points on the packages of my standard purchase of organic chicken and organic ground meat I start talking to myself like some kind of crazy person on the loose that found their way out to Redhook, Brooklyn and into Fairway Market, same way the occasional pigeon does, all flapping and feathers. How can ONE chicken breast be nine dollars and forty one cents? And how are you supposed to make one chicken breast and one pack of ground meat last for one week between two adults and a child the height of a short horse? I buy it anyway and mutter my way on through the snack aisle where bags of healthy chips on sale for two fifty calm me down a little.
Stretch. If you buy quality pasta made from high quality flour and strain it from the cooking water before it’s quite done, you end up with a higher protein content. Green Peas are also high and protein and have the benefit of being green. No need to count solely on Miss Chicken. Fresh parsley is high in vitamin C and an onion is good for the blood–throw that in, and you have a complete meal. Jewel in the crown is a gorgeous olive oil–so delicious you could sip it. Saute the onion in teeny tiny bits. Add a handful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Keep it going over a medium low flame until it is completely tender and only a tiny bit caramelized, along with an uncut clove of garlic. It should taste fantastic. That’s how you know it’s ready. Defrost some of your homemade stock (which you can make from the bones of the breast you bought the week before. If you want, you can defrost the stock right in the pea/onion mixture once it’s done.) Add the peas to the onion, and heat through. Cook the pasta separately in salted water and drain well slightly before it’s al dente. Reserve. If you haven’t already, add the stock to the peas/onions. Bring to a simmer. Drop in the chicken and over a very low flame, cook through, but JUST. Remove the chicken, cool slightly, pull it from the bones, shred and add it back to the stock, which is now off the flame. If the chicken is a little pink, it’s okay. It will cook through in the hot stock. Add the hot noodles and a good drizzle of your best olive oil. Taste for salt and pepper. On the side, make a smash of fresh basil, parsley or mint leaves, a half a clove of garlic, a grate of parmesan and a little fresh, toasted, ground bread crumbs. Even lemon zest if you like. Taste for olive oil, salt and pepper. Pass this in a little bowl on the side to top the soup with. (AKA gremolata) Lovely with a side dish of big olives, radishes, toasted walnuts and croutons.

If evenings aren’t available

sign up for the lunch slot. I tried waiting up for my husband last night and made it to 9:30. Today I made a fish chowder with ramps, potato, cod, scallops, a spill of cream, fresh thyme, bay leaf, parsley, a tiny piece of celery and a squeeze of lemon at the end. We bought a bottle of wine and a baguette and played old Tom Waits in the noon hour lull of construction when NYC comes as close as it can to quiet.

Working it

They say that sleep is necessary for cell renewal.  I believe that.  Because I haven’t been getting any, and on my last job I temporarily lost my mind.  Which I put down to lack of cell renewal.  There is a rule that you never put anything on a menu that you haven’t made before.  It makes a lot of sense–it’s the kind of thing healthy brain cells would choose to do.  I made a rice pudding that I invented as I went along, inspired by a recipe that had moved me because of the drama of where it came from–Normandy.

At the edge of the sea, invaded by the Vikings, witness to the trials of Joan of Arc, a massive invasion in World War Two, and to settle the soul, to soften the edges and smooth the senses, from Normandy comes rice pudding.  I couldn’t resist and there was no time to test the waters first.  It’s not that it failed–it was hands and weapons down the most beautiful rice pudding I have ever made–it’s just to live recklessly and without sleep is hell on the nerves in the moment.

Start with 4 cups of scalded whole milk.  Add one tablespoon of sugar, 1/2 bay leaf, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 piece of lemon zest without the pith, 3/4 of a whole vanilla bean sliced down one side, and 1/2 cup of arborio rice. Simmer this gently until the rice is just tender.  Add 3 more tablespoons of sugar.  Let it sit for a few minutes to rest.  Make a caramel using 1/2 cup sugar, and enough water to cover.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved and then not one minute more.  Keep at a rapid boil, moistening the inside edges of the pan to prevent the sugar from crystalizing, with a pastry brush dipped in water.  As soon as the caramel is a deep, dark chestnut color pour into an oven proof mold.  Lightly beat 3 large eggs.  Remove 1 tablespoon of the egg, and stir into the rice mixture, by first stirring a little of the hot mixture into the eggs to temper them.  Set the mold into a hot water bath and bake at 350 degrees until just set.

Serve with barely whipped cream and sides of candied ginger, dried apricots, and cubes of coconut.

To tip the scales set a bowl of rhubarb compote on the table.  Finely diced fresh rhubarb, just enough water to cover, lemon zest with no pith, cinnamon stick, a piece of candied ginger, sugar to taste, salt and freshly ground pepper.