Short lazy post today, for a very important reason: I’m leaving the country tomorrow!
Me and the manfriend are jetting off for a week in Barcelona. Barthelona. City of modernist architecture, abstract art, pickpockets, and some of the best food in the world. I can. not. wait.
Until then, I leave you with a simple little summer recipe, to whet your appetite for things to come. See y’all on the other side!
This is a post about balls.
A controversial topic, to be sure. Some people grew up with them; some didn’t. When it comes to taste, some like them soft and giving, others firm and round. Some like them small, compact, easy on the tongue; some want them so big you couldn’t fit them in your mouth even if you tried. There are some people who don’t even like them at all, but–if we’re being truly honest–that’s something I just can’t identify with.
Traditionally, especially in the springtime, these balls are often consumed alongside a hunk of beef–though, again, some folks just don’t swing that way. But at least everyone can agree on how the whole thing gets started: a thick paste of eggs and ground matzo, shaped into spheres and simmered in salted water or broth.
Wait, what did you think I meant?
My father grew up in a kosher household in Brooklyn. When he was 16, he went to a Yankees game during Passover. Without thinking about it, he got a hot dog. You know, like you do. Then, halfway through the wiener, he realized his error. A hot dog! On a bun! During Passover!
He stopped and considered. The sun was shining. The Yanks were winning. God hadn’t sent down a thunderbolt and incinerated him right there in his bleacher seat. So he said what the hell, finished the hot dog, and never kept kosher again.
In this, as in so many other things, I am my father’s daughter. Judaism, for me, is rather like the Pirates’ Code. I’ve never kept kosher in my life, and certainly never for Passover. So it’s no surprise that I only thought I was being clever when I came up with a recipe using a non-wheat flour for my family’s early seder this weekend. But, as it turns out, I used chickpeas. And chickpeas are not kosher for Passover, at least if you’re Ashkenazi. Whoops.
But I still served my dish, and it was delicious. So…there.
It’s such a shameful cliche to say it’s all in the details. But cliches achieve their status for a reason: they’re most often true.
Back in college, I took pride in my lack of detail-orientedness. (Detail-orientation?) I was practically detail-averse. I’m an artist, I said. I don’t have brain-space for such things. But somewhere in the transition to the working world, something happened. I became…organized. I began obsessing over minutiae. I started color-coding things.
Well, maybe organized isn’t the right word. My bedroom floor is still blanketed with clothing, and my desk at work is shingled willy-nilly with paper. And truth is, I’ve always been a perfectionist of the highest order; I just didn’t always know which details to tweak to catapult my projects ever-closer to perfection. But now I’m figuring these things out. I’m zeroing in on the little things. I’m learning.
Which brings me to pesto.
Do you ever have the kind of workweek where you go in expecting to have an easy-breezy time, and instead your office is handed a bomb with a sizzling fuse? Where your boss was supposed to be on vacation, but instead has to come back to defuse said bomb, and his frantic, disappointed aura sours everyone’s mood? Where you spend days on end combing through the haystack that is Google, looking for needles that may or may not exist? Where, to add insult to injury, the sky is gemstone-blue and the air is perfumed with fruit blossoms and the sun is high and bright for the first time so far this year, and you’re stuck indoors for all of it? Where you come home every night tasting sleep in your mouth, wishing to somehow melt your corporeal self into your mattress and lose consciousness for a million years?
Yeah. That was my week.
I’ve had no spare energy left for creativity. Which is a shame, because I had a really fabulous time cooking with friends over the weekend, and I’ve completely run out of words to describe it. I’ll try, though.
This was supposed to be a St. Patrick’s Day post. I was all jazzed to write about, y’know, green food. I went to the store, and there were these adorable little tomatillos, nestled cheekily in their wrinkly skins. I wanted so badly to turn them into a gorgeous salsa verde, all hot and sharp and bright jewel-green. But then I tried, and somewhere along the line things went wrong, and the salsa turned out mouth-searingly spicy and sour and…beige. I don’t really want to talk about it.
So instead, let us turn our attention to another holiday entirely, and a much more pleasant and comforting subject: pie. Or pi, as it were.
So let’s get this out of the way, right here, right now. This is a post about chili. But not the old-school kind of chili. Not the kind of chili you put on a chili dog. Not the kind of chili that, when I was in college, I used to slop over fries and drench with nacho sauce and call it dinner. (I am shamed.) Oh, no, this is not your generic tomato-red, capsaicin-swimming, orange-grease-slicked Amurrican chili. If I ever enter this chili in a cookoff, they’ll almost certainly ride me out of town on a rail.
There are about a million and one traditional chili recipes out there in the ether, all more or less the same. What I’m after is none of them. I want chili that demands nothing but a bowl and a spoon and a sprinkle of cheese, that fills to the ribs without coalescing into a belly-brick. I want incongruous meats and funky textures, toothsome chunks of vegetation, beans of all different sizes. And I want something so far beyond the pale that it hardly qualifies as chili at all. My signature chili is absolutely killer, but it’s also miles away from tradition. It’s almost–dare I say it–un-American.
So here’s the proof. I’m done. Haul me away and lock me up. I surrender.
So…once upon a time, a whole week went by without a post. Sorry about that. Back on the horse.
First things first: I want to introduce my new favorite toy.
I call it the Lean Green Delicious Machine. My friend Izzy calls it Kermit. My parents call it a belated birthday present. It is my new 6-quart dutch oven, and I absolutely love it.
How do I love it? Let me count the ways. It’s shiny, and heavy, and my favorite color. But most important of all, it makes a mean mushroom stew.
Let’s face it: cooking is work. It means picking ingredients, figuring out how to put them together in ways that taste good, keeping everything as warm or cool as it needs to be, and then washing up the mess you’ve just made. If you’re a working stiff, and you’re coming home exhausted, that’s sometimes the last thing you want to do.
When I went to my parents’ house on a recent Monday to do laundry (shut up, I’m totally a grown-up), my mom was in just such a state. She’s a self-employed consultant, working insane hours, and on that particular day she was having technology issues that had her nearly yanking her hair straight from her scalp. She was even more exhausted than I was after a full workday. But, of course, in long-ingrained Mom mode, she dragged herself to the kitchen to look for dinner ingredients. So I stepped in.
“Mom, I’ll make dinner. Don’t worry about it.”
You guys, it’s the end of an era. The Minimalist is no more.
I’ve read Mark Bittman’s Minimalist columns in the New York Times for years now. His writing has been an inspiration, a lifeline, a swift kick in the pants. His recipes always look delicious. I want to make them all. Someday, I will.
So today’s post is a tribute of sorts. I’ll admit, though, that this is not a Minimalist recipe.
But I’m sure he’d approve.