Farming with Book Club.

For months, or so it seems, the ladies of book club and I have been wanting to read Barbara Kingsolver‘s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, except we could never think of how to relate it to the previous month’s selection.  Generally, we try to have some sort of link from book to book; this series of connections started when we read…

  • The Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, the story of a boy who burns down Emily Dickinson’s house, leading us to read…
  • Afternoons with Emily, a fictionalized account of a young girl’s relationship with the poet, bringing us to…
  • The Poet and the Murderer, a true-crime following a counterfeiter’s body of work, which included a forged Dickinson poem and a document signed by Abraham Lincoln, inspiring us to read…
  • Assassination Vacation, which briefly tells the tale of Lincoln’s box-mates at the Ford’s Theatre, who were not only the focus of…
  • Henry and Clara, but also step-siblings who married each other, causing us to want to read a more scandalous book about incest like…
  • Flowers in the Attic, which we were not able to thematically tie to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle at all, so we decided to start a new chain.

It doesn’t seem quite right to call this Kingsolver’s book, since she wrote it with the assistance of her husband Steven L. Hopp and her eldest daughter Camille.  Along with Kingsolver’s youngest daughter Lily, the four moved from their home in Tuscon to rural Virginia.  Before their arrival, the family had decided after much contemplation to spend one calendar year living almost entirely off of the produce they planned to farm on their forty-acres of land.  Since no one in the Kingsolver-Hopp household has a wholly unrealistic mentality, each of the four chose one non-locavore item like olive oil and coffee that he or she knew would be difficult to live without.  For the other things that the family was unable to grow or raise themselves, they resolved to buy exclusively from local vendors or farms.

Like I said, the Kingsolvers and the Hopps are reasonable folk; they completely understand that the lifestyle they adopted is one that most are unable to undertake.  I know I personally don’t have the ability to grow what I need to eat in my backyard, and no one in book club can say any differently.  What we did have, however, was an in with Barbara and Dwight Sipler at Small Farm in Stow — Dwight is Amanda and Darlington’s family, a relation we chose to exploit by hosting our meeting at the farm.  It was entirely in the same spirit as this month’s book.

I had been looking forward to our trip to Small Farm, but as it got closer I began to get a little anxious; it had been raining in torrents for days, and I was beginning to forget what sunlight felt like on my face.  The weather did let up a bit, but still — rain.

We lucked out when we first arrived at the farm with just a like drizzle, but rather than chance it we immediately started picking herbs and vegetables; I only gathered a few eggplants, some mint and a handful of lavender since I knew I would be receiving my CSA box in two days.  Amanda, Darlington, Melissa and Sarah picked lettuces, rainbow chard, peppers, herbs and beets.

We set up our spread under the tent behind the farm stand.  Our original plan was to make a handful of the recipes Camille Kingsolver included in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but Sarah was the only one who followed through by preparing what the book refers to as “Disappearing Zucchini Orzo.”  Amanda had made some beans — the same beans depicted in the cover art, actually; Darlington brought drinks; I had packed turnips, a special request; Melissa picked some greens for a salad, which she tossed with goat cheese, raspberries, cucumbers and a balsamic vinaigrette.  (She had also brought a bag of sweet bite-sized bread from Iggy’s in lieu of croutons, but I can’t recall exactly what they were called.)

Barbara Sipler sat with us while we ate; she had, coincidentally, just finished reading the book as well.  As we chatted, mosquitoes descended upon us — I guess we were too tempting a target to pass up, pretty much sitting ducks.  When I got home, I counted my bites: twenty-three, including one on my thigh that I had unknowingly scratched so hard that I gave myself an extremely lurid bruise that, come to think of it, looks a bit like an eggplant.

Here are some photos from the farm.

I have never been stung by a bee, and am vaguely terrified of them.

Doesn’t this look somewhat like an oversize earring?

A pair of pretty lettuces.

One of many butterflies.

I think this is called an amaranth, but I may be totally wrong.

As of today, Small Farm is still open for the season; if you’re in the area, definitely stop by.

Small Farm
184 Gleasondale Road
Route 62
Stow, Massachusetts 01775

Disappearing Zucchini Orzo, from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Makes four servings.

¾ pound orzo
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 large zucchini
olive oil
¼ cup grated Parmesan or any hard yellow cheese

  1. Bring six cups water or chicken stock to a boil and add pasta. Cook according to package instructions.
  2. Use a cheese grater or mandoline to shred zucchini; sauté briefly with chopped onion and garlic until lightly golden. Add spices to zucchini mixture, stir thoroughly, and then remove mixture from heat. Combine with cheese and cooked orzo;salt to taste.  Serve cool or at room temperature.

Dinner at Ten Tables.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes things just fall into place?  Just the other day, I was saying to Keith that Ten Tables was on my short list of restaurants to consider for my birthday.  The next morning, Stephanie suggested a dinner there with our friends Amanda and Darlington.  So two nights later, the four of us met up outside the postcard-sized restaurant ready to eat.

And ready to drink, apparently, since Ten Tables hosts a wine dinner each Tuesday night.  The wines are generally connected by region; in our case it was Chile, but upcoming nights will be featuring Provence, Spain and “weirdo grapes.”  It may have been for this reason that the Jamaica Plain restaurant was so crowded that we had to wait on the sidewalk, but it also might have been the fact that Ten Tables has, well, ten tables.

Even though we repeatedly told him that we were fine chatting in front of the sparkling windows, a member of the waitstaff insisted that we come inside.  We were hesitant; I mean, Ten Tables is so tiny that if we were to wait inside we would be practically sitting in the other diners’ laps.  What we didn’t understand was that he had something else in mind.

He asked us, “Would you like to wait downstairs?”

Since none of us had even known that there was a downstairs, we said yes out of sheer curiosity and followed him through the dining room, into the kitchen and down the steepest, shallowest stairs I’ve trodden outside of Yankee Stadium.  We found ourselves in the stainless steel prep kitchen; the restroom, the walk-in and the cookbook library are all adjacent.  As we took in the space and staked out a corner, the server uncorked a rosé.  Soon after his leaving, Chef Dave Punch came barreling down the stairs looking for peas.  Come to think of it, I don’t remember if he found those peas since he immediately began enthusing about The French Laundry Cookbook, calling it his personal version of porn.  He was so full of energy and just plain funny, turning the well-thumbed pages so ardently that I thought a few were going to fly out of the spine.  It was exciting to hear someone speak as passionately about food, especially since the man speaking would be preparing our dinner.

Soon after we were seated in the dining room and presented with our first course and first official glass of wine.  Our plates were heaped with a salad composed of white anchovies, baby arugula, oranges and olives — a really lovely combination.  Personally, I feel as though the anchovy has somehow got an undeservedly bad rap (in this country anyway, since they are wildly popular around the Mediterranean) but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for them.  Their salty, briny flavor complemented the sweet orange and peppery arugula so well that I had to pace myself.  The accompanying wine was a 2007 Santa Rita Reserva Sauvignon Blanc.  I will be the first to say I have no special knowledge whatsoever when it comes to wine, but this was extremely smooth and citrusy so it was a really nice pairing with the salad.

Our next course (for the carnivores, I should say), was a bowl of swordfish chowder that was incredibly hearty and highly satisfying.  I sopped up a few spoonfuls with a piece of bread, not even caring that I was making a mess.  The paired wine this time around was another white, this time a glass of 2007 Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay, which I think I may have liked as much as I did based solely on the translation of its name: The Devil’s Cellar.  How fantastic is that?  (It should be noted that, at this point I was on my third glass of wine, and I’ve never been much of a big drinker.)

The third course was perhaps my favorite: Ten Tables’ Steak Tartare.  It was my first official steak tartare; I’ve had I suppose what could be called the Armenian version — raw seasoned ground beef and bulgur rolled into bite-size balls.  While I love the cuisine I grew up with, if I had been raised eating Ten Tables’ version…  oh my.  This beef was coarsely ground, which I suppose could be off-putting, but you know what?  It was delicious: both savory and sweet, with the tiniest hint of salt.  When spread upon a piece of crunchy buttered bread — nothing could have torn me away, not even the plummy 2007 Indomita Merlot.

The fourth and final dish was of course dessert, and it was such a lovely one at that: chocolate truffle cake.  What was interesting was that our plates were placed in front of us with the points facing outward; Amanda immediately rotated her plate so that her slice’s tip aimed at her heart.  The server gently explained that the center of a cake pan is the moistest, making it the section to savor.  Savor it I  promptly did, particularly the forkfuls I twirled in my dollop of Chantilly cream.  If the cake’s presentation was interesting, then the companion wine was surprising: a 2007 Aresti Pinot Noir.  I was expecting something like a muscat or an ice wine (though I don’t think ice wines are produced in Chile).

Prior to dinner, I had mentioned to my dining companions that the one grievance I had heard over the years about Ten Tables was its proclivity to serve smaller portions than other restaurants.  As we ate, I couldn’t help but think that the complainers don’t understand the meaning of the word satisfaction.  Which is exactly what I felt full that evening, aside from fantastic food.

And, as a fun exercise, I gave us the task of describing our meal in ten words, one for each of the restaurant’s tables:

  • Amanda: “Tasty experiment: eating a slice of chocolate truffle cake upside-down.”
  • Darlington: “Cozy conversation with subtle alcohol blurred edges and pleasing flavors.”
  • Nayiri: “The funniest part was hanging out in the basement, drinking.”
  • Stephanie: “Delicious wine, perfectly portioned courses prepared by a cute chef.”

Ten Tables
597 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts 02130

Ten Tables on Urbanspoon

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

This would be the third Barbara Kingsolver book I toted back to Massachusetts from my parents’ house in New York; unlike The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven, I had only read The Poisonwood Bible once.  The story is quite dense, and, to be truthful, the hardcover is really heavy.  Though its weight isn’t the reason why, until recently, I’ve only given the novel a single read.  The heart of the matter is that The Poisonwood Bible is incredibly dissimilar from any short story, essay or novel authored by Kingsolver that I’ve ever read, and at first, I wasn’t sure if I liked it.  This time around, I remain uncertain, but I will say this:  Kingsolver’s facility as a writer is irrefutable.

The Poisonwood Bible is about the missionary Nathan Price, who turns his Southern-bred wife and daughters into expats in 1960s Africa.  The novel’s narration jumps from each of the Price women to the next and back again, illustrating how the Prices — Bible-thumping Nathan, his resigned wife Orleanna, proud Rachel, idealistic Leah, her cynical twin Adah, and young Ruth May — all have difficulty adapting to life in the small Congolese village of Kilanga.  Nathan and Rachel have more trouble than the rest.  They both refuse to adjust their American perspectives to better suit Africa; while Nathan’s expectations are frustrating, Rachel’s are flat-out funny.  Here, for example, Rachel describes her conversion to a vegetarian lifestyle, after ants have devoured the entire village’s stores of food and her family has hunted for meat:

I had gotten out of my bath, dressed in clean clothes, towel-dried my hair, and was sitting quietly in the front room prepared to announce to my family that I was a vegetarian.  I understood full well what this meant: from now on I would have to exist on bananas and have poor nutrition.  I knew Mother would have strong opinions about where I’d wind up, with curved legs and weak bones like the poor Congolese children.  But I shan’t care, not even when my hair falls out…

But this is not [what] happened.  When they came home, everybody was having a conniption about a big giant fight in the village over who got whose share of their horrid meat.  They went on talking and remarking about it while Mother built a fire and put in their antelope leg to roast, and mashed some plantains.  It did smell so good.  You could hear it all sizzling and crispy and juicy, and I have to confess when dinnertime came I did eat a few small bites, but only because I was positively weak with hunger.  And I got to thinking about my hair falling out.  But!  If there had been a grocery store within one hundred miles, believe me, I would have walked there on my own reconnaissance for some cuisine that didn’t still have feet attached to it.

There are so many other excerpts from Rachel’s story that I would love to share, but they would without a doubt give far too much of the plot away.  I can give a brief account, though, of some of my favorite Rachelisms include “dull and void” in place of “null and void,” “Cape Carniveral” for “Cape Canaveral,”  and “philanderist” for “philanthropist.”  So funny.

Kingsolver has always been capable of inserting humor into her writing, whether it’s via dialogue, description or otherwise. However, my biggest (and possibly only complaint) I’ve had with Kingsolver’s body of work — of what I’m familiar with, I should say — is her absolute lack of villains.  Her characters, when staring down obstacles, ultimately are facing themselves.  They overcome barriers of their own making.  While the women of The Poisonwood Bible are tormented by their own fears and insecurities, together they have the same boulder to clamber over: Nathan Price.  With the missionary, Kingsolver creates a despicable character incapable of learning from his mistakes or even acknowledging that he has made any to begin with.  Of course, it can be a hoot to read about such a person, but ultimately it isn’t rewarding.

Here’s where I start feeling a bit conflicted about the novel.  The writing, as ever, is superb, as well as being a tremendous departure from Taylor and Turtle Greer’s storyline.  In spite of all that, I can’t say that I flat-out liked The Poisonwood Bible.  While I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel’s narrative and Orleanna’s beautiful prose, ultimately I found the plot to be underwhelming — how terrible to say that, but it’s the honest truth.  Lovely writing, uninteresting story.  Too bad.

Dinner at Garden at the Cellar.

If there is something that I am guilty of, it’s falling into a rut.  Whether that means always ordering the same (or similar) item at a restaurant or even only wanting to go to a small handful of places over and over, I tend to plummet head over heels and bum over bosom into a drab old routine.  Luckily I live with someone who’s been known on more than one occasion to grab me by the lapels and drop me out of my comfort zone.  Our dinner at Garden at the Cellar was a perfect example of that, since it’s a place we’ve been meaning to try for a while; left to my own devices, I probably would have put it off indefinitely…  and I would have missed out on some really fabulous food.

As usual, Keith and I ordered far too much food, opting to select a trio of starters and sides to get our appetites going.  We immediately agreed upon the rosemary-truffle fries ($5.00), which shouldn’t come as a shock since I adore potatoes in all forms and pretty much revere the fry.  These were everything a girl looks for in a pile of fries, though I will say that I know from years of experience that a garlic-mayo dip makes every potato stick that much better.

The second appetizer we chose was the burrata with speck, and arugula ($11.00), since cheese has a gravitational pull I am incapable of resisting.  In this case, as much as I hate to admit it, I should have put up more of a fight as this was a poor choice.  The burrata was appropriately buttery and mild, but overall this plate leaned towards the underwhelming.

The last of our trio was by far the best: chicken and thyme croquettes with a smoked paprika aïoli sauce that may have just been the brightest shade orange I’ve seen in a long time ($8.00).  Our bowl held three croquettes each the size of a golf ball, and you know what?  It wasn’t enough.  I wanted more.  I would have canceled my dinner order and gladly eaten another troika of breadcrumb-rolled globes.  Each bite of ground chicken, thyme and cheese was so deeply and richly flavored that I craved another taste even as I chewed.

Garden at the Cellar describes itself as a gastropub; for this reason, I decided to stick as much as possible to the bar menu when it came time to choose my entrée which is why I kept it simple with the restaurant’s “Cellar Burger” ($10.00).  Shaped with locally-raised and grass-fed beef, it was thoroughly succulent — though I wish it had been cooked to medium-rare, as opposed to medium-well.  I had asked to swap out the accompanying fries with house-made tater tots, which were by far the stand-out of the dish.  Soft, fluffy and encased in a crispy shell, these were the epitome of comfort.

In contrast to the warm and fuzzies I felt from the food, I got the exact opposite sensation from both the décor and the waitstaff.  Aesthetically, Garden at the Cellar’s space is very modern — from a 1980s perspective.  It is not a cozy interior at all, and on top of that, the waitstaff was flat-out indifferent to our presence at the bar.  Only when Keith and I began raving about our food did the hostess make a perfunctory inquiry about how we were enjoying our meal.  Before that: nothing.  Afterwards: even less.

In the end, how important is service?  I don’t want to be coddled, but neither do I want to be neglected.  What I truly desire is a series of stunning dishes delivered politely to my table.  Were we insulted by the staff?  Of course not.  Was our food at the proper temperature?  Without question.  At the same time, did we spend a lot of money?  No… but should a diner have to pay No. 9 prices in order to be the recipient of fine service?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions, since they address something far greater than my food at Garden at the Cellar, which — with the exception of the burrata — was startlingly luscious.  If anyone has some thoughts on the service matter, I’m curious to hear them.

Garden at the Cellar
991 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Garden at the Cellar on Urbanspoon

CSA 2008, Week Seventeen.

There is simply no denying that fall is upon us at last.  I honestly couldn’t tell you why I’ve been in such seasonal denial, especially since autumn is my favorite season: back to school; falling leaves; winding scarves around our necks; orange, yellow and red everywhere.

Of course, there’s more to fall than the trees’ change of apparel.  I haven’t even gotten to the food yet — apples, apples, apples; soups and stews; chili; squash; game — so as the last few weeks of our CSA with The Food Project looms, I’ve found myself anticipating the arrival of our box more and more.  This week’s held the following:

  • Apples
  • Carnival winter squash
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Hakurei turnips
  • Herbs
  • Hot peppers
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Purple-topped turnips
  • Spinach

The first thing I do when I get home on CSA day is go through my loot, put the leafy greens through a cycle in the salad spinner, and think about all the possible meals and snacks I can produce from all the, well, produce.  For example, I knew I would get a good salad out of the spinach, carrots and lettuce, especially if I threw in some chickpeas from my pantry and whisked together a simple dressing of lemon and oil.  Immediately before eating, I would crumble Parmesan over everything.

The squash, on the other hand, awakened in me my culinarily indecisive nature.  Did I want to roast it, mash it, stuff it?  I decided to go with the roasting, but I didn’t want that to be the end of the line for my sqaush.  I still had last week’s Kabucha on hand, and thought a roasted squash soup would be a particularly fitting way to usher in the fall.  While the following recipe takes a bit of time, most of that is because of the roasting process.  Aside from that, the soup itself is very easy to make, and very delicious to eat.

Roasted Pear-Butternut Soup with Crumbled Stilton, from Eating Well
Makes six portions

2 ripe pears, peeled, quartered and cored
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks (I used a Carnival and a Kabucha)
2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 large leek, pale green and white parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced and washed thoroughly
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
2/3 cup crumbled Stilton or other blue-veined cheese
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh chives or scallion greens (I used scallions, since I already had some in the fridge)

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.  Combine pears, squash, tomatoes, leek, garlic, oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl; toss to coat. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, forty to fifty-five minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Place half the vegetables and two cups broth in a blender; purée until smooth. Transfer to a large saucepan. Purée the remaining vegetables and two cups broth. Add to the pan and stir in the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.
  3. Cook the soup over medium-low heat, stirring, until hot, about ten minutes. Divide among six bowls and garnish with cheese and chives (or scallion greens). Cover and refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to one month. Add more broth when reheating, if desired.

Dinner at New Jang Su.

I haven’t had Korean barbecue in years; the last time was probably when I was in Seoul as a sullen and angsty teenager.  When Keith suggested trying out a place in Burlington known for its authenticity, I knew I wanted to check it out and see if the barbecue was as good as I remembered.

In absolute honesty, the exterior of New Jang Su is nothing to write home about.  In fact, the restaurant is most definitely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of joint.  Keith and I even pulled into the wrong parking lot on the drive in.  Once we did find the right entrance, I squinted up at the flickering, faded sign illuminating the doorway.  Any doubts I had about being in the wrong place slipped out of my mind the moment I saw a group of Korean men gathered in front of the entrance. The interior of New Jang Su is equally worn and sparse, but the crowded tables definitely spoke to the reasons why: the fantastic smell of meat cooking.

Before we got down to the business of barbecue, I knew I would have to get some pancakes.  I’ve never been much for typical breakfast-esque pancakes, but I’ve yet to meet a savory pancake I haven’t fallen madly in love with.  The go-chu pajun ($12.99) was no exception — the pancake had a springy, chewy texture, but the scallions and peppers remained crunchy and crisp.  I drizzled a sweet-and-spicy sauce over a few bites; it enhanced the flavor by such a surprising degree that I started to eat as slowly as possible so as to relish each taste even more.

Something else I’m incapable of  resisting are any sort of noodles; if I could get away with it, I would probably eat noodles every day.  Since, unfortunately, that’s not possible, I decided to give in to my sick, sick cravings and dive right into an order of bibim naeng myun ($11.99).  At first, our waitress tried to get us to order another dish, since the one I chose is served cold; I happen to really enjoy a cold noodle dish, so we encouraged her to bring out the buckwheat noodles.  Served with spicy beef, a hard-boiled egg and vegetables, it was a great complement to the barbecue cooking in front of us.

We ordered, as usual, an almost ridiculous amount of food — short ribs ($18.99), pork loin ($15.99) and sam gyup sal, or bacon ($13.99).  My favorite by far was the short ribs, which we wrapped in lettuce leaves smeared with a sweet bean paste.  The pork loin was good, although nothing out of the ordinary.  The bacon, on the other hand, was interesting in that each piece had been stripped of fat; regardless, the meat stayed moist and flavorful.  Though it was tasty, nothing in my mind could compare with the delicious short ribs.  Tender and succulent, it was the highlight of the meal.

While New Jang Su isn’t conveniently located for me, it’s certainly worth a trip to suburbia.  However, if you can’t get past things such as slightly sticky menus and harsh lighting, this restaurant is not for you.  If you do look for wonderful food and efficient service, you should get in the car right now.  Just make sure you keep an eye out — this spot is easy to miss.

New Jang Su
260 Cambridge Street
Burlington, Massachusetts 01803

New Jang Su Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dinner, Dessert + More Gossip Girl.

The thing about a show like Gossip Girl is that once you start watching, it’s impossible to stop.  I suppose the series is a bit like Pringles that way, but with leagues more manipulation and making out.   Darlington and I were two discs deep into season one when we decided a midweek mini-marathon was in order.  It had been something like seven days since we had last snuggled up with Serena, Jenny and Dan — and that was seven days too many.

It’s way too easy to sit  lumpishly on the sofa with a bag a of chips (or a tube of Pringles, for that matter) and bask in Gossip Girl‘s glow, so Darlington and I decided that a more wholesome dinner was in order.  I knew just the meal that could satisfy us on both a taste and health level: a mix of roasted carrots and cauliflower served with couscous, chickpeas and greens.  The salad is as delicious to eat as it is a breeze to make; the most trying part of its preparation is in peeling the carrots.  After that, it’s pretty much just a matter of waiting while the vegetables roast.

Speaking of roasting, what is it about applied heat that deepens the flavor of carrots and intensifies the cauliflower?  Come to think of it — I don’t know if I even care about the science behind my question.  All I know is that the end result is incredible.

Nutritious nosh aside, neither Darlington nor I are delusional; we each have a wickedly strong sweet tooth.  That said, we didn’t want to completely wreck the integrity of our meal with something completely as decadent as a chocolate cake.  What we could do, on the other hand, was supplement our evening with a batch of relatively healthy cookies.

“They’re called ‘Wheels of Steel,'” Darlington said excitedly,  as I raised the most skeptical eyebrow.  My wariness stayed firmly in place even as Darlington told me that her mother used to bake these cookies years ago; the original recipe is from Feed Me, I’m Yours, the iconic 1974 child-friendly cookbook.

Even if I hadn’t started out as being a disbeliever, the ingredients alone would have had me questioning these cookies; after all, how could wheat germ and sesame seeds possibly combine in any positive way, let alone become a kid-tested dessert?  This might be one of the few times where I was excited to be wrong because these wheels were remarkably good.  (For those of you who are wondering, the “steel” part of the name comes from its high-fiber make-up and overall nourishing components, though we did substitute chocolate chips for raisins.)  The biggest surprise, however, wasn’t the cookie’s soft and fluffy texture, but rather the nuttiness imparted upon it by the toasted sesame seeds.  So good.  If only I could say the same thing  (without sarcasm) about Chuck Bass’s fashion choices

Couscous Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Chickpeas, from Everyday Food
Makes four generous portions.

1 pound carrots, sliced ¾ inch thick on the diagonal
1 head cauliflower (3 pounds), cored and cut into florets
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup whole-wheat couscous
1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus ½ cup fresh lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
6 scallions, thinly sliced
5 ounces baby mixed greens

  1. Preheat oven to 450°.  Place carrots and cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet; toss with cumin and two tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread half the vegetables on a second baking sheet. Roast until browned and tender, twenty-five to thirty minutes, rotating sheets and tossing halfway through. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring 1 ¼  cups salted water to a boil. Stir in couscous; cover and remove from heat. Let stand until tender, five minutes. Fluff with a fork; set aside to cool, uncovered.
  3. Make dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest and juice and remaining tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a large bowl, combine roasted vegetables with couscous, chickpeas, and scallions. Place arugula on a serving platter, and drizzle with one tablespoon dressing. Add remaining dressing to couscous mixture, and toss; serve over greens.

Wheels of Steel, from Feed Me, I’m Yours
Makes about twenty cookies

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oatmeal, uncooked
¼ cup wheat germ
½ cup powdered milk
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons milk
1-2 cup raisins (we substituted milk chocolate chips)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.  With a hand mixer, cream butter with sugar until smooth. Add peanut butter, egg and vanilla; beat well.
  2. In separate bowl combine flour, wheat germ, dry milk, baking powder and baking soda.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet; stir well. Stir in milk, oats and raisins.  When thoroughly combined, place heaping spoonfuls of dough onto a greased cookie sheet; be sure to leave an inch or more between cookies. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for ten to twelve minutes.  Allow cookies to cool completely before removing from sheets; they are very fragile while warm.

CSA 2008, Week Sixteen.

Oh, Summer.  You have gone and left me behind, even though you promised to stick around until Sunday.  How cruel, how heartless.

How typical!

Regardless of the telltale chill of fall in the air, my CSA box this week from The Food Project had the most summery surprise inside: the prettiest, plumpest raspberries.  Their taste was so very quintessentially raspberry, with the perfect combination of tart and sweet.  I suppose I could have done something with my bounty like make a sauce for peach melba or another dessert, but honestly, popping them into my mouth like so many candies was the best possible thing.

The rest of the box held the following:

  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Chard
  • Edamame
  • Hakurei turnips
  • Kabucha winter squash
  • Onions
  • Pac toi
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes

The edamame was very exciting, as I’ve only ever seen them in either little frozen packages or prepared and sprinkled with coarse salt at restaurants.  These arrived dangling like pale yellow earrings off of a bouquet of hairy, spindly branches.   After I plucked each pod off of each twig, I steamed them and peeled a few out of their shells.  They were nutty and sweet.


I was also happy to see the peppers, I’ve got a recipe that I haven’t made since the last cold spell this past spring.  It’s a savory and heartening dish to which the peppers add more than a hint of sweetness.  I always add tons more cheese than the original recipe calls for; I’ve also replaced the suggested Provolone with a combination of mozzarella and Parmesan, since Provolone might be one of the only cheeses that I don’t like.

The best part, in my opinion, comes immediately after removing the peppers from the oven — the heat causes the vegetables to both sizzle like a snake and sing like a bird.  I’m serious; if you make this dish, make sure you take a second to lean in and give the peppers a listen.

All in all, it makes for a great meal, and the perfect one to usher in the fall, no matter how reluctantly.

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers, adapted from Everyday Food
Makes four portions.

4 bell peppers  (Though I used two huge red peppers, two small purple peppers and one small green)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
½ cup fresh parsley
1/3 cup walnuts coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely grated mozzarella
¼ cup coarsely grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚.  Stand peppers upright in an ovenproof baking dish; if they cannot stand on their own, use a knife to level off the base of each pepper.  Cut off pepper tops just below stem and remove the ribs and seeds. Discard stems, chop tops and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium.  Add onion, garlic, coriander, chopped pepper tops; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion has softened, four to five minutes.
  3. Add quinoa and cook until fragrant, one minute. Add one cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until water has been absorbed and quinoa is tender, eleven to thirteen minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, walnuts, a third of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Stuff peppers with equal parts quinoa mixture and return to baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until peppers are tender, about fifty minutes to one hour.
  5. Uncover and top with remaining cheese and bake until cheese melts, about ten to fifteen minutes more.

In Memoriam.

On Monday, my friend Ben sent me a link to what might possibly be the most annotated and footnoted piece of writing ever penned on lobster.  It also happens to be by the late David Foster Wallace, who died this past Friday at the age of forty-six.  I can’t claim to be overly familiar with Wallace’s work, but I can say that I have depthless respect for those who are able to write both passionately and compassionately, particularly when the topic at hand is the fishing, consumption and debate surrounding seafaring crustaceans.

Wallace wrote the piece, which is entitled “Consider the Lobster,” for Gourmet in August of 2004.  The magazine’s website is also featuring the essay on their home page, in remembrance.

Books for Obama.

Last night I took a great one-time-only writing seminar with Steve Almond, one of my old college instructors and all-around fantastic guy.  The theme of the evening was defining the line separating fact from fiction, a topic that I think all writers consider at some point or another.  Anyway, that’s not what I want to discuss at the moment.  This is:

I’ve made a decision as to what I want to write about on this blog, and, amongst other things, politics is not one of them.  That said, this is a post about politics.  If you care about the future of this nation and if you like books, please visit Steve’s website at  Through the month of October, he is donating all of his book sales from his site on the following three books to the Barack Obama campaign:

Please show your support.