Monthly Archives: August 2011

A little leek magic

And now, for something completely different.  (Brought to you by not enough sleep and a really comfy blanket.)

Last week I found a couple leeks in the back of the fridge.

I cast around for a while trying to think of what to do with them.  Then I went to the local produce stand, and found some cute little endives.  (Excuse me–on-deeves.  We’re classy here.)

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…I say tomato

When it comes to cooking for others, my dad is definitely my most reliable taste-tester.  It’s not immediately obvious that that’s the case–like any good parent, he will ooh and ahh over everything I make, whether or not it actually deserves the fuss.  Even if it burns, or curdles, or collapses in the middle, Dad will cheerfully scarf it down.

But there are little signs.

If he’s the first to reach for seconds, it’s good.

If he keeps going back for more until nothing’s left, it’s really good.

If he starts quietly hogging the serving dish, it’s practically ambrosia.

I made tomato jam last week, and he took possession of the bowl and ate it directly from the spoon, ignoring just about everything else on the dinner table.  I don’t believe higher praise exists.

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Spuds from Spain

This was supposed to be a post about cauliflower.

I love pan-seared cauliflower. Toss it in a pan and let it get lacey and brown and smoky-sweet around the edges, and it’s like an entirely different vegetable. I came back from Spain with one mission, and one mission only: to get me some cauliflower, crispify it like no one’s business, and introduce it to romesco sauce.

Which I did. And it was fantastic, don’t get me wrong.

But then I made a batch of Spanish-spiced potatoes to serve alongside. I dabbed a little sauce on the spuds, just for funsies. And those potatoes promptly went and stole the show.

Damn carbs.

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Digression: best of all possible

Yesterday my father had his second cancer surgery.  As I type, he’s ensconced at the local university hospital, studded with needles and tubes, as his body begins the climb back to wholeness.  For a guy who’s just been laid wide open on an operating table, he’s in stunningly good spirits.

I’m learning to be at ease in hospital wards.  It’s easy to feel a sickly thrill in those halls, but I’ve now seen firsthand that this is a place of healing as well as grieving.  I’ve recovered from the first cold shock of seeing my dad turn into one of those strange drifting figures, gown-clad and clinging to an IV pole.  And it’s finally sunk in how extraordinarily lucky we are.

My father has always been a total optimist.  In his mind, we all have the power to make any unfortunate situation better.  “Mind over matter,” he used to say to me when I skinned my knee or had a sleepless night, and even when I was diagnosed with PCOS.  I hated him for it–hated that he wanted to minimize my pain.  Let me suffer, dammit!  But over the past few months, I’ve seen firsthand how that relentless positivity has buoyed our entire family.  I’m firmly convinced that my daddy will get better, because he’s firmly convinced he will get better.

I’d love not to be in this situation.  It’s been months since I’ve heard my father’s voice–it disappeared after his first surgery.  But I’m trying to feed off the vibes from him, as he spends his time in the hospital diligently practicing his breathing and charming the nurses with his gratitude and good humor.

Instead of sinking into helplessness, I’m looking for things to do.  I’m planning meals for my family.  I’m taking long walks.  I’m collecting jokes and funny stories to tell my father when I see him next.  I’m feeling out our family’s support system, and finding myself profoundly moved at how many people have rallied around us.

Instead of wishing this never happened, I’m finding ways to help us get through it.

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Sweetness and light

Northern California is slipping into a late-summer lull. I love this time of year, when the sunlight loses a little of its edge and people begin to dig in their heels against the long slow downhill slide to fall. These are the kind of days that were made for napping under an open window. (Screened, of course. This is also bonanza time for bugs.)

It’s a fabulous farmer’s market time. There’s still a glut of stone fruit and berries and colorful tomatoes. Corn is everywhere; fresh herbs are plentiful. But there are also the unexpected summer treats, the ones that sit patiently by while everyone gorges on peach cobbler and tomato-mozzarella salad. There are seasonal ingredients that I’ve never tried before, but have intrigued me for years.

Like zucchini blossoms.

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You say tomato…

My brain is fried.

Work is craaaaayzay.

I have to start looking for an apartment soon.

My synapses are slowly fraying.  I can hear the “plink!  plink!” of connections severing in my head.  Just directing my fingers to write words in this text box is exhausting.

So here’s something I made last weekend.  It was yummy.  You should try it.

The end.

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Digression: the rain in Spain

The first two days we were in Barcelona, the city was sticky-hot and swamp-humid. On the third night, toward morning, the humidity broke with a wild thunderstorm. We woke up as the first throaty growls rolled across the hotel courtyard; I rolled out of bed and crept to the window, pulling aside the curtain just in time to see a single shock of lightning split the sky over the ocean. I gasped in awe, prompting a sleep-marbled mumble from the bed: “Is everything okay?”

I stood naked by the window, peeking through the heavy curtains, thinking of all the thunderstorms before–all the times I’d stood in strange rooms, in faraway places, watching the wet sky pulse with electricity.

The time my family got caught in a sudden downpour in Shenandoah National Park, and ran back to the cabin, stuffing our skin-soaked clothes into the dryer and wrapping our hands around mugs of hot chocolate and tea while the thunder rumbled through the trees outside.

The summer I spent as a teenage volunteer in Nicaragua, in a tiny half-rural barrio deep in a volcano-ringed valley, walking home from an everyday dinner of rice and beans, fried plantains and avocado halves, as tiny blue-white sparks flickered in the distant hills and knots of slate-gray clouds gathered on the horizon.

The night I stood on the porch of a schoolteacher’s house in a small town in Panama, after a meal of fried hot dogs and boiled yuca–two of my least favorite foods–watching a raging, alarmingly close electrical storm carve white-hot streaks in the sky right over my head.

I remembered those storms, and the places, and the experience of waiting for the clouds to gather and break, sitting down to fill my belly in a warm cabin or a tin-roofed house or a backyard hung with hammocks.

I stood there at that hotel window in Spain, with the curtain wrapped around my sleepy body, remembering all the times when nothing mattered but good food, and warm faces and free-flowing conversation, and the coziness of being sheltered from the wind and rain and thunder. When all the worries about health and body and beauty and self melted away with the first burst of lightning, leaving nothing but an incredible gratitude for being nourished and sheltered and loved.

“Everything is wonderful,” I said. “Come look.”

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