Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl

During my recent visit at Downtown Abbey, Mrs. Hughes proposed for dinner this recipe from Deb Perelman’s blog, “The Smitten Kitchen,” – it’s delicious! The complete recipe is here, but you could make a fine variation using Perelman’s ingredients list in the bowl below.

I followed Perelman’s suggestions for preparing the vegetables – first coating the baking tray with “a thin slick of olive oil” and roasting one-inch chunks of sweet potatoes for 20 minutes. Then I flipped the sweet potatoes and piled on the broccoli florets to cook.

The dressing makes this dish, and Mrs. Hughes whipped it together (while I played a “helicopter rescue and take patient to the hospital” game). She layered our bowls with a mix of wild and brown rice, lots of the vegetables, and topped with the sauce.

Something comforts about warm food in a bowl – each bite different. Maybe not so comforting as a helicopter airlift – but good!

Sweet Potato and Broc

 

 

Moments of Joy

On the day we made an apple pie during Lady Baby’s visit over Labor Day, I saw pure happiness. Not stated, not “Oh I loved making this pie,” (as we might say) but a glow of pride and triumph.

Her parents came home just as we took the pie bubbling with brown sugar, apples, and cinnamon out of the oven, and sitting in the garden in the sunshine we all ate pie. Both parents and her Poppa Jim said, “I’m pretty sure this is best apple pie I’ve ever eaten!” Still, Lady Baby didn’t say much. She ate her own slice with relish, then headed to the Buffalo for a nap.

With the whole family here, we had a busy few days. Lady Baby delighted in Sweet Baby, played games with Uncle Tutu, and spent much time with both her parents (including a backpacking adventure that ended in an overnight deluge of all the rain we missed for months).

But earlier on the day of the apple pie, we walked up the driveway in our aimless, purposeless way doing what we do best, just being together without any particular agenda. Lady Baby wheeled her little red wheelbarrow and picked up fir cones and rocks (“keepers” she said).

While I sliced apples (picked by Lady Baby and her dad from our columnar tree), she played the ever-popular “farm” game with her Poppa Jim. Our younger son had assembled a dollhouse (inherited from my young friend complete with people and furniture), and I could hear some discussion about whether animals belonged in the barn or the house.

But not until later did I realize the importance of the pie. After her nap, she still seemed so pleased. She insisted on sitting next to Granna Katy, and I received unsolicited hugs (the best kind to get from a grandchild, though it’s hard not to request them). I loved these moments of gladness – for her, for me.

Not minding the sudden wind and rainstorm that welcomed them and changed our summer weather abruptly to autumn, the L.A. contingent stayed a record 10 days. They walked often with Sweet Baby in the front carrier – she’d stare up at trees and sky till her eyes closed and she slept against her dad.

Completely wordless in expression, Sweet Baby provided moments of pure joy. When Lady Baby would focus on her (which she did a lot), getting down to Sweet Baby’s level face-to-face close with toys to encourage her movements on the rug, Sweet Baby would beam. We all think that Sweet Baby smiles specially at us – but we get nothing like the long-lasting, eye-crinkling grins Sweet Baby gave her cousin. A blissful look, her dad said.

On departure day, Lady Baby came over in the morning from the Buffalo, crossing the garden by herself to open the door and declare: “I love you Granna Katy!” I said “oh and I love you!” tears popping. She asked if I would miss her when she left, I said “more than you know!” She replied calmly with that agreeable head nod she gives when wanting you to go along with what she’s saying: “But you have Frances, right?”

And that’s true.

Opal apples 1

Dinner with the Sweet Baby

At Downtown Abbey, Mr. Carson suggested he make Jamie Oliver’s “Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes, and I said, “Oh I love sloppy Joes.” I admit the ground beef version is not my usual fare, but deep-seated fond memories stir. Our younger son replied the same way when I proposed them at his house. They are deliciously sloppy and nurturing.

By my second visit (after a week away) Sweet Baby had gained 10 ounces and grown an inch! She begins to fill out – with a hint of the double chin and chub to come.

Most days, after my treasured early mornings with her, I’d walk in the California hot sun up the nearby hill in Eagle Rock – a well-worn knob above Occidental College. From the top it provides a 360° view of Los Angeles: downtown, the Hollywood hills and Griffith Observatory, the San Gabriel Mountains behind Pasadena, freeways – and Sweet Baby’s house a speck in the distance.

She is so tiny to live in such a huge city! But her small world comforts and protects her. She spends time on her parents in a Solly Baby wrap – pale pink with polka dots. She peeks up at their faces, and you can see the outline of her little form within the wrap. During “tummy time,” she turns her head from side to side, staring at the black and white and red books favored by the very young.

In a very happy event, the Sweet Bride’s mom and a cousin are coming for a month from Thailand to meet the Sweet Baby. Perhaps they will try this all-American fare:

Sauté a small, diced onion, diced red or yellow pepper, and two sticks of celery (also diced) in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until soft. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of ground cumin and one of chili powder.

Add a cup of French lentils, three cups of water, a 28-ounce can of tomatoes (sauce or crushed), three tablespoons of tomato paste, and one of Sriracha sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the lentils are soft (a while – at least half an hour). When tender, add a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar.

Serve the lentils in sloppy Joe fashion, over or in a buttered and toasted whole-wheat bun. Add toppings – big scoops of avocado for sure. (Oliver suggests homemade zucchini relish, but that’s for another time.)

What used to be happy hour in Eagle Rock with chips and beer on the veranda now coincides with the ill-famed “witching hour,” when babies need most to move and be comforted by contact. I loved watching the Sweet Baby in the front wrap on her dad, as he paced his garden and shushed her gently.

Sloppy Joes can wait, ready when you are.

pepper

 

Blistered Tomato and Lentil Salad

Fresh tomatoes and squash sit side by side on the kitchen counter this time of year – bounty that encourages cooking after a summer of flagging interest.

Our CSA arrived with beautiful tomatoes and a recipe for using them. And tomatoes padded in my carry-on, I headed north to Anchorage earlier this month.

And very glad I was to see Lady Baby! We did all our usual things – playgrounds and much, much reading – she knows many books by heart, but is quick to point to text and request “say these words” when she doesn’t.

I attended her music class, and observed with her and her mom at a preschool. We met the bunnies, Lefty and Righty (named for their cage alignment), watched children raking patterns in fallen leaves, sliding, running, digging potatoes, and pulling carrots and washing them to make soup (feeding the tops to the bunnies). It looked like great fun for next fall.

Before I arrived, Mr. Carson had cooked lentils, and a batch of Deborah Madison’s “White Bean Soup with Pasta.” (The soup provided dinner, warming lunch many days, and a reminder that soup matters in autumn. The trick to that soup is to cook for a long time.)

If you haven’t lentils already prepared, the recipe for “Blistered Tomato and Lentil Salad,” adapted from honestcooking.com, says to soak half a cup of rinsed brown lentils in three cups of water (for at least three hours to shorten cooking time), then rinse and cook with dash of salt and three cups of water for about 15 minutes.

Blister a cup of halved or roughly chopped tomatoes by cooking on high heat with a garlic clove, tablespoon of olive oil, and salt in a sauté pan (about five to seven minutes).

Combine the cooked and drained lentils with the tomato mixture in a large bowl. Add a cup of thinly sliced kale (I’ve used all kinds in this) and quarter cup of chopped red onion.

Dressing puts the zing in the lentils and kale. Combine one tablespoon each of Dijon mustard and white rice vinegar, half tablespoon of tahini, two tablespoons of olive oil, and half teaspoon of cumin powder. Whisk. Dress the salad and serve right away or refrigerate.

I got almost this far, salad ready to dress, Hassleback potatoes in the oven, when Mrs. Hughes came home and took over while I read more books with Lady Baby. (Such a treat to have help with cooking from the other staff at Downtown Abbey.)

Mrs. Hughes sautéed zucchini (a Lady Baby favorite), roasted cut-up purple carrots with olive oil and salt, and in the perfect finishing touch to the lentil salad – fried an egg to top each serving.

Hearty autumn meal (and great leftovers the next day). I’m inspired to cook again!

Fried egg - paper

A Bungalow in Eagle Rock – and a Spring Salad

Flying from Anchorage and arriving in Southern California for the weekend felt such a treat – similar cloudless blue skies, but much warmer temperatures and no late March ice underfoot! We visited gardens in bloom, worked in our son’s garden, and ate great meals.

Our son and his sweet bride have made their classic California bungalow, in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, so welcoming. One-story with a garage on a fairly busy street, it has commonalities with Downtown Abbey and our house in Washington – white walls and fir floors, books and pictures – but it invites one outdoors.

A few steps up from the garden, a large, veranda-like covered porch stretches across the back of the house. With newly dark-stained wood floors, an old blue-cotton covered loveseat, cushioned wicker chairs and a hammock, everything about this porch makes you want to linger with a book. The guest room opens onto the porch (all the back doors are sliding doors, no snow or wind to keep out), and I love to step straight out in bare feet.

The young couple has transformed their barren back yard, a rectangle of scrubby grass, into a city oasis. Just a small square of spring-green grass remains and around it, in generous garden beds, grow a pomegranate, persimmon, olive, lemon, orange, and banana tree. (It astounds me to write that list.)

A tall wooden spirit house from Thailand occupies one corner, surrounded by shrubby drought-resistant plants, and St. Francis stands in another corner amongst rosemary, lavender, and blooming sweet william. A row of closely planted podocarpus screen the near neighbors.

The winter kale was ready to be pulled and replaced by zucchini, pepper plants, and tomatoes (later in the season they might come north to Alaska and Washington). After planting, watering, and weeding it’s March bliss to a Northwesterner to have a beer under a sun umbrella on the brick patio – and to eat breakfast outdoors as well.

The new kitchen is brightened by tubular skylights, white walls and cupboards, and made colorful by open and glass-fronted shelving full of pottery and travel treasures. An eating counter with stools replaced the wall between kitchen and dining room. It’s great place to perch and watch a fabulous meal come together, thanks to the sweet bride!

She served “Vegetables and Brown Rice Salad,” and later sent her recipe. (It seems like you could easily vary both the vegetables used and the quantities.)

In a large bowl mix together a couple of diced carrots, a cup of white beans, a couple of chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of sliced shallots, a zucchini (cut in half and sliced), finely sliced kale, and kalamata olives. To dress this mix, the sweet bride recommended regular oil and balsamic vinegar salad dressing, suggesting I add a little soy sauce or sesame oil. She warned me to add the dressing sparingly.

Mix in a cup of cooked brown rice, combined well with a tablespoon of lime juice, and season with salt and pepper.

Rice and white beans and real spring – treats!

Wm:T house

Fried Rice With Vegetables

When the sweet bride made fried rice with kale, it was delicious! “Oh sure, I will send you my recipe,” she said. Sounded simple.

Sauté minced garlic with olive oil in a pre-heated wok or skillet on medium high heat. After the garlic is golden brown, add diced carrots, and stir for five to six minutes until the carrots are soft. Add one or two diced tomatoes. Stir. Cook for a few minutes more, then add cooked rice and combine.

Make a hole by pushing the mixture to the sides of the pan, add two or three eggs, let them stand for a few minutes and stir as you would scrambled eggs. Then finish by mixing the eggs into the rice. (Add the kale at this point.)

There are pitfalls for the inexperienced: the threat of gooey rice, the risk of eggs not mixing in well. One voice of caution suggested that in the hands of a non-expert, things might get mushy.

Some cooks suggest beginning with cold (even frozen leftover rice). And Frugal Feeding recently posted (here) about cooking the eggs separately as a little omelette, then rolling it up and cutting it into pieces before adding. Foolproof he says, and the bites of egg stay separate and taste great.

I also happened on Post Punk Kitchen’s recipe for “Brussels Sprout Fried Rice” (here). She cooks the sprouts (trimmed and quartered) with the carrots (and outlines some other possibilities).

I asked the sweet bride if she thought that would work – “Of course,” she said, “that would be delicious!”

kale

Ottolenghi’s Chickpea Sauté with Greek Yogurt

The sweet bride chose this recipe from Ottolenghi’s cookbook “Plenty,” and typically of what she cooks, it’s full of surprising flavors.

Ottolenghi’s recipe (here) calls for chard, but the sweet bride, using available greens, substituted kale with good results. Home cooked chickpeas might taste chewier and better, but using canned chickpeas makes this a quick, pretty much pull-out-of-the-cupboard recipe.

Pull the leaves from stems of the greens, and blanch (stems for five minutes, leaves for two), then chop both into half-inch dice.

Next, sauté diced carrots (maybe two carrots or what’s needed to balance your chickpeas and greens) with a teaspoon of caraway seeds for five minutes. Add the chickpeas and the chard or kale.

Sauté this mixture for about six minutes, then add a crushed garlic clove, the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon each of fresh mint and coriander, salt and pepper. Let cool a little.

As a topping, Ottolenghi mixes a tablespoon of olive oil with a cup of Greek yogurt (he recommends the higher fat kind for taste). The sweet bride added pepper to the yogurt mix, and served rice alongside.

Tasty! A feast for happy diners – coriander, mint, lemon – a Mediterranean treat on a winter night – with hints of the warm months ahead!

Carrots