A new round of high school seniors are sprouting all over high schools right about now including my best friend’s oldest daughter, whom I consider my first child as well. They will spend the last year at home relishing the grandeur of being top of the school food chain while surviving the bombardment of advice hurled out to them by their parents, who are still befuddled as to how it came to happen that they now have a kid about to graduate.
Of course, there is the matter of all the practical skills that need to be taught, steps necessary for a smoother transition flying solo in the real world, like balancing a checkbook or cleaning spark plugs. I realize I need to hit the books and learn the 2014 equivalent of such skills so I may successfully pass them along to my child, but, lucky for me, my oldest is entering the 10th grade so I still have a few more years to prepare.
The advice I do find imperative to offer now is this:
If you haven’t already started, learn to cook!
Oh, sorry, I’ll say it louder:
It’s what one does over there on that thing in that room you enter to grab a bag of chips or to whine to Mom about how hungry you are and when is dinner.
Don’t worry, I am test-driving this on my teenager as well.
She is very proud of her culinary tastes while bypassing the topic of her culinary skills, eagerly informing others that she despises fast food of any sort, has for years.
Some of her favorites foods are (in random order):
Sautéed foie gras
Terrine (of any kind)
Coq Au Vin
It’s easy for her to like them, I know. I’ve been serving her these dishes since she was a baby. So I remind her, she’s in for a shocker if she doesn’t learn to do this stuff, on her own, or at least, get off her computer and watch her mama make it. This stuff doesn’t come out of a box. I mean, it can, I assume, pretty much anything can nowadays. But that means it will be gross, loaded with preservatives, way too much salt, and ridiculously overpriced.
I can hear you teens out there now:
Why cook? I won’t have a kitchen in my dorm!
Eventually, you will have a kitchen. And it will scare the wajeebees out of you if you don’t know how to use it. Start bumping around in there now, with your training wheels on and perhaps a parent gently guiding you. Start small. Make pasta. Add butter. Grate cheese.
Parents, help out. This is the time you must tell your child to use fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. Grasp your child firmly by the arms, look squarely into their eyes and announce: “You must never buy cheese in a green tube. Ever.”
They’ll thank you later.
And teens, did you know that if you boil up some farfalle pasta (Google it), add some broccoli florets, a wee bit of garlic, maybe some chopped up ham, a bit of salt and pepper and throw that all in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a dab of butter you’ve got a meal that will feed an army and keep them happy? You want a happy army, trust me, you do.
And if you want to make them really happy, grate some lemon rind over that dish and mix it in. Wowza! They won’t know what hit them.
You can do it!
When I was in high school I found amongst my mother’s cookbooks one that would forever change my culinary life. It was an unpretentious book with whimsical illustrations and food combinations that dared my adolescent mind: carrot soup with orange juice? Chicken with raspberries? You’re on!
It was called The Silver Palate, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, a best seller that ushered in the wave of New American cooking in the 80’s, something I was completely oblivious to as a teenager growing up in Venezuela. I did the same thing Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s recipes in her book, Julie & Julia, which later became that Hollywood blockbuster, and I cooked my way through the entire book. I mean, I didn’t have a blog to record everything in (they didn’t exist in 1987) or the chance to meet Meryl Streep, so there are a few differences.
But I cooked!
How I cooked!
There were plenty of disasters along the way. I’ve chosen to forget most of them. You will forget yours too.
An enormous amount of successes are still revered. Remember the profiterole baked in that tiny toaster oven? Remember the endless rounds of strawberry mousse? Remember how decadent the decadent chocolate cake really was? All worthy of 3 Michelin stars!
Cooking delicious food is an easy way to dazzle potential boyfriends or girlfriends, by the way. Especially starving ones strung out on greasy pizza and Starbucks.
You don’t even have to visit the stovetop for a great meal.
Salads are good.
I learned this one from my Mom, who taught it to me one quiet Sunday afternoon my senior year when there was nowhere to go and nothing to do, just the two of us together. I was the baby of the family, the last to fly the coop, so on those days, there was a certain weight to the casualness of time for both of us, like if we were walking inside a frozen photograph frame. Mom whipped up the salad in minutes, while we talked about everything and nothing at all: the math test I had miraculously passed, the cover art chosen for the yearbook, the purple flowers that had finally bloomed in the front garden.
The salad was creamy and tart, fragrant and crunchy and instantly became a favorite of ours, a moment we shared regularly over the course of that year when we both knew that June was around the corner and inevitably our lives would be changed forever.
Mom gave me a copy of The Silver Palate as a going away present. It has the prized spot on my bookshelf today and I have to open it carefully nowadays, the binding is so shot, the pages so worn from so much use. I’ve mastered new American cooking and so much more over the years and I am constantly learning new techniques and dishes. But on those rare, quiet days when my teenage daughter miraculously has nowhere else to go, it’s my mother’s curry tuna salad that I like to prepare. I’ve already showed her how to do it too. We share it, just as I did so many years ago with my mother, casually, perhaps with a bowl of soup or a slice of freshly-baked bread and some heartfelt conversation: who liked whose photograph on Instagram, what are the latest dress styles for Homecoming, when would we go bathing suit shopping. Simple life moments bound together by food.
It’s a breadless week for Jews following the rules of Passover and for those addicted to carbs that can be tough going. Especially at lunch, when a tasty sandwich begs eating. I like matzo just as much as the next guy, but how many times can you slather it up with butter, pizza toppings and peanut butter? (Hopefully not at the same time.)
Look at this bread-free week as a time of renewal. You always said you wanted to eat more salad, now here’s your chance! Of course, lettuce can wilt in a heartbeat, especially if you are packing your lunch to go, and, I don’t know about you, but somehow, I feel hungrier when I’m done with a bowlful of Boston Bibb than before I started. I know it’s roughage, which is great for you and keeps the gut working and all that Dr. Oz stuff, but, the mind is a powerful thing and when I’m offering it some lettuce, a few tomatoes, and a cucumber slice or two, well, my food-obsessed mind tends to get a bit panicky.
If this happens to you, it’s a good time to reach for the grains.
Take lentils, for example.
Red lentils are a win win.
Not only are they tasty, but they are incredibly healthy too. In fact, Dr. Oz called them one of “The Best Anti-Aging Superfoods of 2011.” Okay, this was on his blog in 2011, but trust me on this, these grains and their benefits have been around forever and remain the same today: rich in protein and loaded in fiber, two properties that help make us feel fuller.
So, you don’t have to fight the urge for a thick piece of Challah or a crunchy baguette. You don’t have to sigh at the thought of another piece of lettuce, either. Plus, this power-packed, savory dish has a vinaigrette, so, whether you choose to eat it warm or cold (both viable options) you can still call it a salad, or better yet, a Supersalad!
It’s been raining a lot around here lately, giving pause to the characteristic blue skies and sunny days of South Florida. Instead, I have been burrowing down waiting for the exotic Tropical Storm #16 (unlike their cousins, the hurricanes, it seems tropical storms are not worthy of names, just numbers). Needless to say, it’s a bit glum and gray around here, which is a problem because gray doesn’t suit me.
I have a hard time with shades of gray. I’m a black and white gal. Sure, I strive for constant self-improvement, hope to see the gray, but, my default switch seems to delete it altogether.
I hate my gray hairs. Increasingly growing. (Dani starting middle school: two new ones, Jonathan’s eye accident: four, okay, six, but I plucked two out).
So even though I am a couple full moons from turning forty, I tend to rebel with the zest of an anti-oligarchic teenager when it comes to gray. Especially when it takes over with the weather.
I wear my neon blue camisole.
Glossy, bright lipstick.
And put on the loudest, jingliest earrings I can find (it’s not that hard for me, really).
It seems this rebellion extends beyond my wardrobe and into my kitchen as well.
Bright foods abound.
Smoky bright chicken mole ignites the darkened room.
Tomatoes stuffed with basil pesto line up at the table like small bombs of red fury.
A clear bowl brimming with Greek salad promises sun is around the corner and offers a kaleidoscope of color therapy for dreary, rain-soaked eyes.
And then there’s my new favorite:
Edamame salad. A protein packer I must admit I was late to come by. While hip folk ordered it up at their Japanese haunts, sucking the beans from their pods while reveling in their amazing nutritional value (such a high amount of protein in each one of these suckers, they’d rave), I looked on skeptically and rather uninterested and popped another shumai in (lots of spicy mustard please). I totally missed the edamame boat.
But edamames came back to me in a very different and unusual form: the form of a (gasp) diet book. In preparation for my upcoming trip to Spain [jumping up and down now] I decided to peruse a diet book to see if I could loose the couple…few…several pounds I would be sure to regain (and then some) after I was done consuming all the Jabugo ham, paella, and wine possible.
Most recipes sounded bland and predictable, but the one for edamame salad stuck out, not only as colorful, but as tasty as well.
Definitely one to brighten the palate, rain or shine.
It’s Mark’s eyes that draw you in.I first came across them at a food conference in an expansive dining hall in Denver filled with big round tables and mounds of mini croissants.They were clear and blue and electric, like the calm before a storm or a lazy careless morning on the shores of St. Barts, but when they are engaged in a conversation with you, a conversation inevitably and rightfully about, what else, salt, the entire room gets filled with an intoxicating culinary energy that is simply contagious.
Mark Bitterman, owner and self-proclaimed selmelier of The Meadow shop in Portland, Oregon first told me about his store specializing in salts, flowers, drinks and chocolates when we first met in Denver.It sounded lovely to own a quaint shop in the even quainter town of Portland and I imagined it overflowing with roses and pinot noir and an old-time world charm non-existent to my South Florida neighborhood whose foundations seem built on an abhorred obsession with strip malls and Applebees restaurants.
Then I attended his salt tasting at the Greenbrier and I was a changed woman.It was the nightcap to an evening filled with good wine and food.No doubt the wrong time for this, I thought to myself as my belly sat complacent and my body ached for my warm bed.I’m too full, and, it’s just salt, right? But I went anyway, because, quite frankly, how often can one say they’ve attended a salt tasting?
The room was cramped with other equally intoxicated foodies from the conference and Mark and a colleague were feverishly slicing cucumbers and buttering breads (I learned this was the way to sample salts, both a wet tasting and a dry one, respectively).And once that was all set, that is when those electric eyes kicked in as Mark pulled tiny glass bottles of multi-colored salt crystals, describing their characteristics, origins and tastes with the care, attention and passion a father does of his own children (this one has a mischievous streak, this one is faithful and delicious, this one will capture your heart.)I basked in an impassioned survey of the world of salt from colors to crystal formations to textures and realized it was a world I knew nothing about, one where I learned I’d been, not only neglecting but abusing my taste buds with Kosher salt (tsk tsk), an item too sharp and unpolished to warrant the tongue.
It sounded crazy unless you were in that room, with that man and his cucumber and bread slices, and then it was just right because not only did he teach you, but he showed you as well, with bite after bite of salts, I learned to understand the nuances and beauty of the world of salt.And just like that, I was forever infected.
The night ended with a big show-off item:a huge beautiful block of Himalayan salt.Mark explained the many usages for such a block:from frying up the best egg ever, to sizzling pomme frites (use the duck fat from that is cooking on your block as well), to curing sashimi and I knew that, alongside all the new salts I had to purchase to feel complete I must also have one of these.
As folks prepare to dish out the pizza, chicken wings and nachos for this weekend’s Superbowl, I will be fetching my beautiful block of salt for the simplest and tastiest of snacks:ensalata caprese.Thin slices of fresh mozzarella and plump tomato hugged by my garden basil and cured by my Himalayan beauty swim wonders on my tastebuds, making that, the best touchdown ever!
Summer is almost over, I can tell. It’s not the weather by any means, no, Florida sticks solidly to its high 90’s with heat index pushing it to a proud, stifling 107. Now that’s summer for you. But still, the general laziness that floated through the air is drying up. You see it in stores piled high with notebooks and polo shirts and neon rulers. “Back to school” is retail’s current desperate buzzword.
My summer was a patchwork of ups and downs, including a phenomenal culinary adventure through France, Israel and Spain, some peace from parenting with a child off in sleep-away camp, and then, believe it or not, all the anxiety that actually accompanies the peace from parenting with a child off in camp. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I missed my girl in the most exaggerated sense of the word and didn’t heed the advice all those before me had given: ‘enjoy the time to yourself, enjoy being just with your easy-going son, enjoy this enjoy that, I’ll see life in a whole other way; oh enjoy enjoy enjoy.’
When my melancholic state first absorbed me, friends assured me it was perfectly normal: I had to get used to her being gone. But in truth and quite blatantly, I never, ever did. I missed that annoying-but-loveable-high-maintenance-ten-going-on-forty daughter of mine like crazy and, like an amputee, I felt I’d lost something inherently mine and roamed through my day looking for my newly lost limb.
This longing, I realized soon enough, included my life in the kitchen. Whereas my child will not touch a salad even if it were the only thing left on this planet, she most certainly will direct me on how to make one: the best produce to use, how to add a splash of color to it, give it the right textures, and then, how to photograph it. She is a visual person at heart, like me, and inevitably is enticed and enamored with the world of food. What choice did she have after all? She has eagerly served as my little sweatshop of stirring, measuring, enhancing, and tasting since she was old enough to burp.
So, although I knew she was having a blast at camp, was growing as a person, was making new connections, and all that crap, I was happy as a clam when the day to pick her up arrived. After she had finished spewing all her updates on the past month, she insisted on knowing mine: how was the site doing, what was the latest thing I had cooked, and then proudly informed me she had told ‘some famous person who came to speak at the camp’ to check out my site. I couldn’t really get more information about who this person was, so, for all I know, it could have been the local handyman checking out the plumbing situation, but, just the thought of my ten-year old plugging my site to some stranger in North Carolina made me tear up with happiness and pride.
On our drive back to South Florida we stopped at my best friend’s house near Orlando for a couple of nights. Her kids and my kids consider themselves cousins and immediately set off to play as Beth and I caught up and soon found the conversation turning towards lunch. “I’ve got the perfect summer salad”, she offered, perking my attention instantly. She pulled from the chaos of her fridge a colorful green bean salad that we proceeded to devour ravenously. Crispy sweet green beans nestled with plump plum tomatoes, crunchy almonds and grilled chunks of chicken marinated in a tangy balsamic dressing shouted simplicity and summer in one glorious symphony of taste. My daughter soon heard all the accolades I was throwing at Beth and gravitated towards the kitchen to see what was going on.
“Mom, that is a beautiful salad! You should photograph it!” she urged, her almond-shaped eyes twinkling in the sun.
I don’t know if it was the way her amber hair curled from being in the pool, how tall and even more lovely she had gotten in only one month, or the smooth and sweet taste of summer that still rested happily on my tongue, but the eloquent confidence with which my girl had made her suggestion made me realize this was the perfect ending to my summer. As I held a forkful of Beth’s Green Bean and Chicken Salad and watched Dani rearrange the tomatoes so they’d “pop” in the photograph, I knew instantly and so very gladly that I’d found my other limb.
Ensalada de Judías Verdes Con Pollo: Extrañando Mi Asistente
El verano esta casi por terminar. No es por el clima por ningún medio, Florida sigue firmemente y sofocantemente caliente. Pero de todos modos, la pereza general que flotaba por el aire se ha marchado. Se ve esto en tiendas llenas con cuadernos y camisas de polo y articulos escolares. “De regreso a la escuela” es el cliché desesperado corriente de la venta al por menor.
Mi verano era un remiendo de altibajos, incluso una aventura culinaria fenomenal por Francia, Israel y España, un poco de paz de mi rol de mama con mi hija lejos en el campamento de verano, y luego, la ansiedad que crea, aparentemente la paz de mi rol de mama con mi hija lejos en el campamento de verano. Estoy hasta avergonzada para confesar que eché de menos a mi muchacha en el sentido más exagerado de la palabra y no presté atención al consejo todos me habían dado: ‘disfruta del tiempo, disfrute estar solo con tu hijo, quien es tan tranquilo, disfruta esto disfruta lo otro, veré la vida de otro modo completamente; ah disfruta disfruta disfruta.’
Cuando mi estado melancólico primero me absorbió, los amigos me aseguraron que era absolutamente normal: tuve que acostumbrarme a que no estuviera mi hija. Pero en verdad nunca me acostumbre. Me hacia falta aquella chica adorable pero dificil, una de diez pero de veras una de cuarenta; esa hija mía me hacia falta como loca y, como una persona amputada, sentí que yo había perdido algo intrínsecamente mío y vagada durante mi día buscando mi miembro recién perdido.
Me hacia falta tambien en mi vida en la cocina. Mientras que mi hija no tocará una ensalada aun si esto fuera la única cosa dejada en este planeta, ella más seguramente me dirigirá en como preparar la major ensalada: los mejores productos para usar, como añadirle un chapoteo de color, darle textura y luego, como fotografiarlo. Ella es una persona visual, como yo, e inevitablemente es atraída y enamorada por el mundo de la comida. ¿Qué opción tenía ella después de todo? Ha servido con impaciencia como mi pequeña esclava, o, major dicho, asistente desde que era bebecita.
De este modo, aunque yo supeira que ella la pasó de maravilla en el campamento, que crecío como persona, hizo nuevas amistades, y todo lo de mas, el día mas contento mío era el día que la fuimos a recoger del campamento. Después de que ella había terminado de contar todas sus aventuras durante el mes pasado, ella insistió en saber las mías: como va el website, que era la última cosa que había cocinado, y luego orgullosamente me informó que había contado ‘alguna persona famosa que vino hablar en el campamento’ sobre mi website. Yo realmente no podía conseguir más información sobre quién esta persona era, así que, podría haber sido el plomero local que vino a ver algo de una poseta tapada, pero, sólo el pensar que mi hija le hablara a alguien sobre mi website en las montañas de Carolina del Norte me lleno con felicidad y orgullo.
En nuestro regreso a Florida del Sur paramos en la casa de mi mejor amiga, cerca de Orlando para un par de noches. Sus niños y mis niños se consideran primos e inmediatamente salen para jugar. Beth y yo hablamos hasta que la conversación llegó a lo del almuerzo. “Tengo la ensalada de verano perfecta”, ofreció ella, animando mi atención al instante. Sacó del caos de su nevera una ensalada de judías verdes que nos pusimos a devorar vorazmente. Las judías verdes dulces y crujientes se acomodaron con tomates, almendras crujientes y pedacitos de pollo a la parrilla adobado en una vinagreta sencilla de vinagre balsámico que anunciaba con orgullo los sabores del verano en una
sinfonía gloriosa del gusto. Mi hija pronto oyó todos nuestra bulla y se acercó la cocina para ver lo que ocurría.
¡“Mamá, que ensalada tan hermosa! ¡Deberías fotografiarla!” ella insistió, sus ojos color miel centellaban en el sol.
No sé si era la riza de su pelo al salir de la piscina, o que tal alta y hasta más encantadora se había puesto en sólo un mes, o el sabor delicioso de verano que todavía descansaba felizmente sobre mi lengua, pero la confianza elocuente con la cual mi hija había hecho su sugerencia me hizo realizar que este era el final perfecto a mi verano. Miré Dani reajustar los tomates dentro de la ensalada pra que se viera mas bonita la foto y en ese instante sabía que había encontrado al encontrado esa ausencia que tanta falta me habia hecho.
La Ensalada de Judía Verde Con Pollo de Elizabeth Anderson
Para el adobo:
Taza de 2/3 vinagre balsámico
Taza de 1/3 aceite de oliva
3 cucharones mostaza Dijon
1 cucharón jugo de limón fresco
1 cucharilla de condimento italiano seco
sale pimienta, al gusto
4 pechugas de pollo deshuesadas
Para la ensalada:
1 libra de judías verdes
1 pinta de tomates de ciruelo, partidos por la mitad
1 taza almendras en rebanadas (tostarlas es opcional)
Pollo cocinado en pedazos de 1 pulgada*
Prepáre el adereso:
Añada el vinagre balsámico, la mostaza, el jugo de limón, y el condimento a un tazón de cristal y batidor hasta bien combinado. Lentamente chorrear el aceite de oliva, batiendo constantemente, hasta combinar. Añada la sal y la pimienta.
Reserve la mitad del adobo para usar como vinagreta despues.
*Añada el pollo al adobo restante y cubrir generosamente. Cubrir con plastico y refrigerarlo.
El pollo tiene mas gusto si se remoja durante toda la noche, pero tambien se puede remojar un minimo de dos horas. De le vuelta al pollo varias veces durante el proceso de adobo.
Prepare la ensalada:
*Quite al pollo del adobo.
Calienta una cazuela de parrilla o parrilla al aire libre a calor alto medio y cocine el pollo, aproximadamente 7-10 minutos en cada lado.
Quite de la parrilla y permita que las pechugas de pollo descansen unos 5 minutos.
Mientras tanto, cocine al vapor las judías verdes 4-5 minutos. Quite del vapor y remoje con agua fría.
Pique el pollo en cubos de una pulgada, coloque en un tazón grande y añada la vinagreta restante, mezclando bien hasta que el pollo este bien remojado. Añada judías verdes, tomates y almendras al pollo y mezclar bien.