Happy Halloween!

I have heard tell that certain little people will be transformed today – in Alaska we’d find one duckling, and one cowboy riding a horse (that part is important, the horse is handsome) – and in California,  a kitty cat with all the feline moves!

I hope you find some cheerful orange this autumn day – Pumpkin pie remains my favorite orange on a dark and spooky night!

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The Pie

Lady Baby asked her mother some time ago if we could have a “baked apple pie” after Thanksgiving dinner. We aren’t sure where that request came from – but it has the ring of literature.

Before she came I bought a frozen piecrust with two shells in case a baking opportunity arose. And when it did, Googling vegan apple pie led to a one-crust recipe. We changed the recipe a little and discovered a happy way to make a pie with a three and a half-year old – like playing mud pies – only tastier!

Slice the apples (the recipe says four cups, I cut enough to be a big pile so our pie would be overfull). Combine a third cup of coconut oil with a third cup of brown sugar – mush them together with a tablespoon of cinnamon and teaspoon of grated nutmeg (that seems a lot of cinnamon, but it contributed to the pie’s success I think).

Lady Baby helped transfer the frozen, but softened and slightly shattered piecrust to a real pie pan. She dumped handfuls of apples in rough layers, and then concentrated on patting and crumbling the sweet brown mixture around the apples.

We flipped the second piecrust onto the top of our heaped apples – never minding the fissures (though Lady Baby tried diligently to pinch the crust fractures together).

Then the best part – we smeared the rest of the coconut and sugar and spice mixture onto the top crust. We made up this adaptation on the spot and loved the process. We cut some slots in the top. (Probably unnecessary, but book illustrations always show those steaming portals – they do eat much pie and cake in storybooks.) The pie baked for about an hour in a 350° oven.

I love to bake – and maybe Lady Baby will also – such magic to see the transformation from cold and questionable to hot and fragrant.

We are ready for a repeat this Thanksgiving!

apple pie postcard 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

 

Resisting Temptation

Walking with a friend one morning last December, we talked about habits and diets and health – and about her tendency to be an all-or-nothing sort of person when it comes to food. She’d recently lost access to a dietician food guru who helped her eat the way she wanted.

I told her about a system of “pre-commitment strategies” I’d read about, employed when people recognize they want to accomplish the kind of goals we set when we know something is good for us, but fear we lack the willpower to resist temptation. Research finds that people do best when they pre-commit to punishment if they fail. That’s right, not reward, but punishment.

Often this punishment is monetary. Websites like “StickK” help design a commitment, hold the money, and turn it over to a designated person or charity if slippage occurs. A list of goals people have committed to scrolls up the side of the website, along with the total dollar amount on the line (19 million a couple of weeks ago). A further twist, confirmed by research, finds the best compliance occurs when people stand to lose money to a despised cause.

We laughed about how counter-intuitive this is and about dreadful possible recipients. But when we reached her house, she told me to wait a minute, and came back out with a check written to me for $1200 – a year’s commitment!

I am to hold the check (pinned to my workroom wall), and she is to eat no dairy or sugar. Over the holidays we clarified our expectations, the possibility of unintended consequences: what were replacement sources of calcium and Vitamin D, how not annoy hosts as a dinner guest with food limitations, and how to travel and work long days with no easy availability to her chosen food.

Going whole months seemed dangerous. It would be easy to fall off the wagon in week one and say what the heck, I might as well eat whatever! So our contract agrees to a weekly check in, leaving $25.00 increments at risk.

In a draconian addendum to the contract, I will return her check and my friend will write another check to send her hard earned money away (and have her name registered as a donor). Given the designated recipient of the money (and both our tendencies to do what we say we will do), it will kill us if this fails.

For two weeks I happily put gold stars on a calendar at the end of each week. I heard great reports about the power of this strategy from her. She also said that rereading the article, (I had to ask her to send the link back), meant even more to her now that she was involved in the “program.”

And then, dinner out with risotto (parmesan cheese) happened. My friend confessed the transgression and ruefully admitted she’d have to write a check.

Painful. I couldn’t stand it – so offered an opportunity for redemption. Because another of her goals is to increase the two days a week she exercises without fail, I proposed that two weeks of daily exercise (five days without fail) could turn that black mark to gold star. Glad for the chance to exercise her way out of slippage, she accepted.

She’s back on track. And I love hearing from her every week – and drawing her gold stars in place!

January calendar 2

 

 

 

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

Yotam Ottolenghi Dresses My Fridge

The great strength of our London flat was location. From a bus stop at the top of our street, we could ride for five minutes, hop off at Notting Hill Gate Tube station, and be transported to royal London, business London, theatre London.

And just a short walk from our flat, making it easy to bring home boxes of delicious food, we found the famous chef Yotem Ottolenghi’s Notting Hill establishment, on Ledbury Aveue. It’s a tiny skinny place with just one big communal table at the back for eating there, but in the front space, which can’t be more than 10 feet across, huge platters of salads and meats are on offer each day. In a display window on the street, delicious desserts vie for attention.

Thanks to Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, you can do it all at home with your own fresh, seasonal ingredients. I have his book “Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi,” and, most cherished in a recipe book, it’s full of inspiration. (The links here are from his Guardian newspaper recipe column.) Ottolenghi’s meal-making salads combine unexpected ingredients and dressings. The wordsmith recently made “Sweet Winter Slaw”( http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/jan/12/recipe.foodanddrink) using green cabbage and substituting kale for savoy cabbage – so good!

I read his recipe “Roasted parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette” (http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2008/jan/19/weekend7.weekend4) before tackling the motley, approaching antique, vegetables I found in my fridge when we got home. An investigation of the crisper drawer revealed parsnips, turnips, some of which turned out to be very large radishes, and some mature beets. I also had a big sweet potato, several shallots, a garlic bulb, sprigs of rosemary from the garden and thyme from a pot on the porch. Ottolenghi magic transformed this bunch into an amazing winter meal!

His hints about the order and time for roasting make this work. To begin he mixes olive oil, parsnips, red onions in a bowl (I used the shallots and the other vegetables I had). He roasts these (at 350°) for about 20 minutes. Then adds the sweet potato, chopped into wedges to the mixture, and stirs to coat.

After another 40 or 50 minutes, he adds halved cherry tomatoes. (I didn’t have those.)

I had to make substitutions in the dressing – I didn’t have the called for lemon, so squeezed a little tangerine juice into two tablespoons of olive oil, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, capers, and salt. Ottolenghi also calls for roasted sesame seeds.

Lately watching “Downton Abbey,” I think how we certainly don’t dress for dinner. But we should dress the vegetables, giving then a new life out of the drawer, a dressier life. Delicious.

Parsnips with Hats - cropped

Pasta Alla Puttanesca

It used to be that food was not a reason to go to England. That’s so different now in London. We had an easy time of that dangerous-to-travelers early evening period, when hunger sets in along with restaurant uncertainty. By happenstance, we twice ate at restaurants belonging to the chef Jamie Oliver.

Near the flat we rented in Notting Hill, Oliver’s Recipease is a cook’s store and a restaurant where chefs teach partygoer groups how to make a dish. We sat at a big wooden table, watched the chef and his students, and ate the best guacamole ever, along with other delicious things.

But my favorite Oliver night came in Covent Garden. We approached Oliver’s Italian restaurant to find a huge line at 5 p.m. We stood in it – more out of indecision and fatigue than anything – and were rewarded as people as people quickly disappeared into a surprisingly commodious, bustling place smelling like garlic and fresh bread.

The special board listed spaghetti alla puttanesca and it was terrific. A Jamie Oliver recipe for Gennaro’s spaghetti alla puttanesca is (here), and I was surprised to read that it contained anchovies!

     I came home reminded of that favorite and so easy dish, and will make it this weekend for company. I’ll leave the anchovies out, so it won’t be the same, but capers and olives seem the trademark ingredients. I’ll sauté onions in olive oil, add garlic, red chilies or our Rome spices, and canned tomatoes. Then toss in olives, capers, and cherry tomatoes.

     It will be fun to spoon it over strozzapreti, serve it with crusty bread and wine, and talk to friends about trips. For sure we’ll have London weather – wet and very dark – but the memories will be bright!

ingredient - pasta puttanesca