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Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

curry girl

Lizzie’s eating solids, which is to say she’s eating highly liquefied cereal and baby food purees. Her wrinkly-nosed reactions to some of the flavors she encounters on her spoon are quite funny (as are her grunts and screams of enthusiasm). I’m thankful for the organic security and convenience that Earth’s Best jars offer–don’t get me wrong–but that food is awfully bland. I understand that the warnings not to salt your baby’s food come from a reasonably cautionary attitude toward Americans’ tendency to excess. But other culinary tweaks can enhance flavor just as well, and can be good for both the tastebuds and the body. A dash of cinnamon, a pinch of pesto, a dribble of evoo does a body–and a food jar–good.

All of us food-loving breastfeeding types also know that breastmilk is a baby’s first introduction to the flavors of her food culture. (Check out my friend Jeannie Marshall’s new book on children and food culture!) If you’ve enjoyed curries, so will your baby, the logic goes. (Why is the example always curry?) Now, when I decide to do something, I dive right in. Total immersion. (I wink to another friend.) So, in my excitement about producing lots of flavorful baby food for my little Lizziekins, I pureed a bunch of the curried lentil split- and fresh-pea soup I’d been simmering, and gave my girl a bite.

Oh, it also had fresh cilantro pesto on top. Can you see where I’m going with this?

Her facial expressions were… surprised, interested, quizzical, and then, upset. Why did I think going from unseasoned-rice-and-peas to curried peas would be acceptable to her tiny tongue? Ah, well… When we ate the soup later, it was good. Warm, toasty, and earthy with a bright herbal twist.

Here’s a rough recipe.

Curried Pea Soup
6 cups broth or water
Bay leaf
1 cup each split peas and red lentils
2 – 3 tbs. curry powder
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
handful of cilantro
olive oil

Sautee the veggies in olive oil until softened, then pour in the broth, dried lentils and peas, bay leaf, and curry powder. Simmer until soft. Near the end, stir in the fresh/frozen peas. Using an immersion blender, puree part of it to thicken and smooth the soup. Meanwhile, make a simple pesto by blending fresh cilantro and olive oil. This is for drizzling on top.

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I love summer meals. Cool, refreshing, and nonchalant; celebrating the spontaneous combination of any variety of flavors without a clash because everything is fresh, fresh, fresh.  Tonight in Vermont, I threw together a meal every ingredient of which was local, (with the allowable exceptions of a lemon, an orange, Kalamata olives, some Spanish olive oil, salt and pepper, and a pinch each of cumin and coriander–Mediterranean items that don’t grow in these here parts).


Here are the elements of the meal:

> a cold bean salad with two varieties of heirloom beans grown by Killdeer Farm, here in Norwich, fennel, orange segments, radicchio, olive oil, and herbs from my mom’s herb garden.

> panzanella: tomatoes, a stale baguette, fresh mozzarella, garlic, chives, olives, backyard basil.

> cold grilled chicken.

> corn on the cob, picked this morning and as sweet as dessert.

> grilled heirloom eggplant, summer squash, and zucchini from the neighbors’ garden.

> a Lebanese-style yogurt sauce for the grilled veggies and chicken.

> (and for Jack, the above, plus Vermont cheddar, a glass of Strafford Creamery milk, and local carrots and sugar snap peas.)

The best supporting actor award in this meal goes to the yogurt sauce, which I hadn’t made before, but which will now be my default leftover-chicken-jazzer-up.

Lemon-Yogurt Sauce

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
juice of 1/4 lemon
pinches of salt, ground coriander and ground cumin (best if you use seeds ground with a          mortar and pestle)
4 mint leaves, minced
small bunch chives, minced
1 tbs. parsley, minced

Stir it all up and adjust the seasonings to taste.

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We’ve lived in Minneapolis for a month now.  We spent the first 9 days in our new place without furniture, which was interesting.  In fact, it was surprising how quickly we adapted to living with minimal stuff.  But don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a sermon about the importance of living with less.  I’m glad to have a couch to sit on, pots and pans to cook with, and 200 pairs of shoes to choose from.  (Well, no, sadly, I’m actually limited to a few pairs of Birkenstocks, since that arthritic toe joint has flared up again.)  What made that first week of camping out on hardwood bearable was the thrill this city buzzes with when it’s summer time, the lakes and parks, and the amazing food spots we’ve discovered.  There are great grocery stores, fun farmers’ markets, and countless hip cafes, coffee shops, bistros, patisseries, and pizzerias. (According to some survey that was cited in the Star Tribune last week, Minneapolis is the hipster capital of the country. I bought a $3 cup of hipster-made coffee at our neighborhood farmers’ market and thought it was so-so.)  Our favorite place to eat out is the pizzeria we went to on our first night here, which is just a block and a half away: Lola. They have an enormous, round, beautiful, shiny, copper wood-fired oven in which they cook thin-crust pizzas topped with only the best ingredients.

They also have the tastiest soft-serve vanilla, which you can get between cookies, unadulterated, or with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt.  The latter tastes like a vegetal twist on caramel, which is novel and delicious.

One night, instead of having pasta bianca, we went uptown to Lucia’s, where Peter had mussels served with this delicate chive-flower-sprinkled crostini:

And after our things finally arrived (but before our kitchen was fully functional)…


to celebrate we went to another fantastic bistro, Cafe Maude, where Jack ordered a kids’ cocktail called “Rubber Ducky,” which is topped with a Peep!

I think it’s love.

And, let’s see, how many times have I been to Patisserie 46? I’ve already lost count.  Our first time there was also something of an occasion. We met up with my college friend, writer Emily Sohn, whom I haven’t seen since graduation!  She lives here with her husband Gabe and adorable son Zach.  After some morning pastries and perfectly executed cappuccini, we walked slowly to the closest park, where the little boys stripped down to their shorts and splashed around in the wading pool.  The first time I tasted Patisserie 46’s delicate pastries was the week before, when I found their stand at the Fulton Farmers’ Market, which is close to home.  While I ate a cherry & almond-topped brioche and drank my hipster coffee, Jack, in the mood for more savory fare, waited in line at Chef Shack for a brat with mustard.


I also bought two heavy bags of produce: a gigantic head of oak leaf lettuce, English peas, baby bok choy, new potatoes, kale, cucumbers… I forget what else.  We’ve been eating very well.

A few days later, when my parents came to visit, (in addition to eating at Lola and Cafe Maude, and then Cafe Ena) we visited the Mill City Museum, which is really the museum of flour.  We learned about the central role of flour in the growth of Minneapolis, and stood for what must be our oddest family portrait.


Notice anything peculiar about me? Yes, that’s right, I’m pregnant.  The little girl is due November 2nd, and is squirming and wriggling away as I write. Jack is so excited.  When I asked him to take a belly picture, he took me quite literally, and cut off my head:

Jack has been busy playing with his new neighbor friend.  They wanted to have a lemonade stand, and the only lemonade I had was the pricey Trader Joe’s organic. Their customers commented, they said, on how delicious the lemonade was.  No crystal lite on this corner!

Another day, we went to Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream on Upton Ave., where they make their own small batches of uniquely flavored gelato-like ice creams.  The first time we went, I got cinnamon.  Next time they had salted caramel. Mmmm… is all I can say.  They have back-garden seating, which feels Berkeley-like, and a big iron turtle to crawl on.


It’s been a busy, happy, well-fed month.  And even though I haven’t touched on it much here, I have been doing some cooking.  But it’s summertime cooking: quick, a little lazy, conducive to warm nights. Last night, I mixed up a pesto for our ravioli using basil from the pot on the front stoop and peas from a local farm. The peas gave it a bright color and sweetness that was a refreshing change from the basil pesto I usually make, which always contains the evidence of an over-zealous garlic pusher. If only I could extend the evening with a few glasses of rosé….  Instead, I’ve been reading Clarissa.

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After one of the more fantastic of Saturday lunches at the Academy—which included my new favorite twist on panzanella (big olive-oil—or was it chicken fat—soaked bread chunks, radicchio, fennel, pinenuts, and raisins, with it’s delicious balance of bitter and sweet), and chocolate cake topped with whipped cream and violets—Jack felt like sticking around with the kitchen crew.  First, he just wandered from here to there, munching an apple.  Then, Mona asked him if he wanted to help Josh in the garden.  Oh yes!

What are we planting? Cilantro.  Oooohh! That bodes well for spring meals from the RSFP!

I love the little garden house out back here by the olive trees.  The phone actually works.  Now, there is a sense memory from my early childhood—rotary dialing.

New leaves are popping out on the olive trees, and the apple and plum trees are blooming.

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Walking through Rome the other day, I had two missions: get a pizza lunch at Roscioli, and try on some shoes from the list of brands my doctor gave me. It became an emotional journey, with it’s own motifs and atmosphere of ironic pathos that is captured so well in that Dylan song, (which I love in The Band’s rendition) “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” that came to mind when I walked past this scene.

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble;
ancient footprints are everywhere.
You can almost think that you’re seeing double
on a cold dark night on the Spanish stairs.

This road repair was on the way to Campo di Fiori, where I stopped at the market stall that is the humanized, de-DIY-ified version of what we call “the bulk section.”  The man who runs this stall is a virtuoso of Eur-Anglo languages and regional Italian sauces.  Every time someone stepped up with a bag of herb-pepperoncini mix, he would ask “Inglese, Francais, Espanol, Deutsch?”  I heard him explain in three languages what kind of sauce should be made, and when to add the herbs to the tomato base.

herb blends for sauces

other "bulk" items

From here, I took my prematurely ancient footprints the few blocks to Roscioli, where I saw its sign rising like a beacon on the horizon (and creating a great color juxtaposition with those shutters):

Most days, I eat at the Academy, because it’s right at home and the food is regularly extraordinary.  But sometimes I just get the craving to carry out a sandwiched slice of Roscioli pizza.

My favorite kind is the sauteed, garlicky, salty spinach and mozzarella.  It’s simple, and exquisite, folded in a piece of brown paper.  Often, people stand around these cask & board tables to eat their quick bite.  12:30 was too early for the average Roman, though.

table outside Antico Forno Roscioli

I limped with my lunch toward the Corso, passing on my way the scaffolding-covered Pantheon. (Glad I saw it before those went up.)

And finally, I began my hunt for a better shoe, based on my doctor’s list of brands.  Some of these are quite chi chi, with snooty salespeople to match.  As soon as I was done in the Geox store, for example, having decided that they were all either too stiff for my feet or too flashy for my taste, I became a despicable object of scorn to the saleswoman.  And her store is nothing special next to Hogans, where the staff is even more disdainful, the sequin-studded leather even more attitudinal. I tried on probably 12 pairs.  Someday, I’ll make a decision.

Someday everything’s gonna be different,
when I paint that masterpiece…

When I finish that dissertation? No, I’m not that delusional.  Speaking of that behemoth document, though, here’s my favorite recent piece of Byroniana (which might just be the unintentional irony of the shopkeeper’s name… but I don’t think so).  Right next to the Keats-Shelley museum, in Piazza di Spagna, whose name looms larger than life?  Lord B’s, of course.

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My mind and time have been taken up with other writing projects during the past week—my dissertation, about which I won’t talk here, and my story/pamphlet for Bioversity, about which I will talk, at some later date.  But I have to steal a few moments from eighteenth-century literature to do some musing on marjoram.

2034-tb-marjoram

Every Wednesday night at the Academy, the RSFP kitchen cooks an entirely vegetarian meal with local, seasonal ingredients.  Last night, the highlights of the meal were hazelnuts (chopped on a bitter green salad with beets) and marjoram.

Marjoram is often thought of as a meat herb because it can hold its own alongside the most flavorful lamb or venison.  But last night’s main course was potato gnocchi with marjoram and chopped walnuts, pecorino and some wilted green (something chicoryish but not too bitter… plain old spinach?).  It was a risky dish, because the piny astringency and almost medicinal zest of the marjoram could easily have overpowered the humble little gnocchi.  That’s why I’d like to praise, along with the herb so evocative of wildness, the kitchen staff here.  Not only did they create delicate gnocchi for almost fifty people, but they seasoned it delicately with one of the strongest herbs.  The dish had to have been prepared with gentle fingers—to keep the gnocchi fluffy and to crush the leaves of marjoram without mincing out the flavor.  The wine pairing was exquisite, too: a slightly effervescent, green-grassy crisp white from Lazio.  Like a vinho verde, but even greener.

Thanks, guys!

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