The other day in the car we listened to this Robot or Not podcast about whether it’s better to have changing seasons or nice weather all the time. The New Englander in me immediately said “seasons,” though if I’m honest, I haven’t terribly missed those frigid Februaries and wet Marches too much since I moved West. (Fall colors, on the other hand? My tragic lost love.) I think the thing about living in a place like northern California, where the temperature changes maybe 25 degrees max, all year, is to be super in tune with the small changes: the few fall colors we get? Oh how I appreciate them. That chill in winter, when it’s below 40 in the morning? I’ll take it. And what passes for summer, and me having had the wherewithal to get up at six a.m. to write for an hour in that clear morning light FOR THREE WEEKS STRAIGHT NOW?
Yes, yes, yes.
Right now, in early June, we’ve got the warmest weather we’ll see all year—until late September, that is, when we get a second stretch of heat. In the middle? Fog. So when we have these warm summer days, it’s important to seize them: the late light, the abundance of flowers, and mostly, the many fruits in our amazing garden.
And in the stores, already, blueberries and peaches and nectarines and basil like you wouldn’t believe.
So I have to admit that while I was all about meal planning and being organized and cooking ahead—and while overall this has been such a smart move—lately I’m into the easiest and loveliest of summer meals: a salad, an artichoke, a protein, a pile of rice. I’m stocking my kitchen with summer’s bounty, tons of which comes from my very own garden, and then I’m seeing what happens next.
It’s kind of like writing a poem. A summer one.
Speaking of which: I’ve got a mini book tour going! I read in Santa Barbara last week, and I’ll be in Davis, California, tonight. Next week, I’ll feature at the Voz sin Tinta reading series in San Francisco. Over the summer I’ll hit Portland, Maine, and I’m hoping for the other Portland in the fall. You can stay up to date on my comings-and-goings on my new Little Prayers Book Tour page.
And if you wanted a copy of my book and haven’t yet gotten one, The Bookmobile is coming! I’ll be signing and sending books in the month of June. Drop me a line via my contact page for details.
And wherever you are, enjoy a gorgeous summer meal. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, I suppose.)
My friend Mattison sent me this video the other day of her parents preparing a feast for Chinese New Year. Immigrants from China via Vietnam, they worked for hours—days—weeks?—preparing the food. The level of food prep is astounding. There are scenes of her mom forming dumplings by hand, mixing doughs, frying little delicious-looking morsels. Dungeness crabs cracked with a sharp knife, individual—custards? Cakes?—stamped with a fetching little chop, becoming works of art. Her mom lays an altar and burns incense over the food.
It is, in a word, beautiful.
I’ve been thinking about that video a lot, not just because it all looked so delicious. I’ve been a little obsessed with food prep lately. I’m the food prep maven in our house. I work less, I get home earlier—it just makes sense. And I used to be so good at it. L would play happily with some jars or measuring spoons on the kitchen floor—or, later, read a book or color—while I roasted veggies or whipped up a quinoa salad.
But Baby S would rather pull jars off the shelves and fiddle with the knobs to the stove. He’d rather dig through the trash. He’d rather open the one not-yet-baby-proofed cupboard and dump Cheerios all over the floor. He’d rather make a break for the bathroom and gleefully thrust both hands into the toilet. So many nights, five pm rolls around and I’m flummoxed. The baby needs to be picked up, and he’s very persuasive. Or he’s in the toilet. Or something has to come out of the oven and it’s not even safe for me to open the door because he’ll try to climb in. I holler for L to watch the baby for fivepleasejustfiveminutes but L has turned into a teenager that afternoon and demands a bribe (or flat-out refuses). Ben walks in the door and I hand him the baby and march to the fridge for a beer.
Well, for the first time in my adult life, I’m embracing that slippery practice of PLANNING MEALS. And hoo boy has it has helped. It’s turned the question of what the f&*k is for dinner? into “I know what’s for dinner, because I planned it over the weekend, muthas!”
So herewith, my Boring Yet Practical Tips:
Dude. Just plan the meals. I’ve been asking my family what sounds yummy to them and rolling with it. Weirdly, since doing this, I think we’re eating more vegetables and more variety.
Cook ahead of time. Yes, it can be done. Last Sunday morning, I thought to myself, well, since I’m in the kitchen anyway, I might as well chop these two onions and throw them in a couple of separate pots and simultaneously make a pot of Indian dal with coconut milk and a grass-fed beef stew with root veggies. Dinner for two nights, done.
Shop once. This was a hard one at first, but easy to embrace when I got two credit card bills in a row that were almost double my (Bay Area!) rent. Ouch. The jury’s still out, but I kind of suspect all those frantic last-minute trips to the store, plus whopping Costco trips (we let our membership lapse, partially after reading this) were to blame. I’m trying instead to make a good list and go one time.
Cook with What You Have. That is, of course, the title of my brilliant friend Katherine’s blog and business. Just look at the photos on that webpage. I’m salivating. She even has a recipe subscription service. More than that, the ethos makes sense. Shop smart, cook whatever you want.
Cut corners, but not too many corners. I just can’t embrace Blue Apron and Good Eggs and all that jazz, you guys. If money is no object, and you’re working 80 hours a week, then by all means. For me, though, all the wasteful plastic packaging really got me down. And I’d rather just shop than have my groceries delivered, because then I know which stores I’m supporting.
That said, definitely cut some corners. Last fall, before they discontinued the crusts (bastards), I was all about the following dinner: Trader Joe’s gluten-free pizza crusts with Trader Joe’s pizza sauce and Trader Joe’s cheese, topped with greens or mushrooms or whatever you want. Salad. Easy. Yum. I am also all about rice bowls, e.g. a big pile of rice with a bunch of veggies and a fried egg on top. These are 20-minute dinners.
Definitely, definitely allow yourself to eat out once a week. (This article suggests you should do it even more!)
Being organized about feeding my family feels really good to me right now that I’ve got a million more things on my plate, like a new book and a book launch to plan. (Come!)
What are YOUR go-to food prep tricks, or true confessions? I’m all ears.
Truth, you guys: I secretly want to be a food blogger. (Well, guess the cat’s out of the bag now!) I know my way around a kitchen, but more than that, I just love the process around food-making (not so unlike writing), and I love the way food bloggers are always so matter-of-fact yet earnest about that process. My fave food blogs? Check out Cook With What You Have by my dear friend Katherine Deumling (and if you’re looking for a last-minute gift, her recipe subscription service is a winner), Conscious Food Choices by my sister-in-law Jorin Hawley, and the terrific Rachel Eats.
So for all these years of blogging about writing and parenthood and other things, I’m not sure I have ever posted a recipe. But hey, if Donald Trump can get elected, anything is possible. So here goes. I’m only sorry I didn’t take photos as I went!
After Thanksgiving, a friend on Facebook posted this recipe for cranberry clove cookies, as a way to use up leftover cranberry sauce, and they looked delicious. (Besides, I had about three cups of leftover cranberry sauce in the fridge.) But being gluten-free, I couldn’t eat them as is. I tried just subbing in an equal amount of America’s Test Kitchen gluten-free flour mix that I had on hand for the flour in the recipe, but the cookies came out insanely greasy and spreading all over the place. So I got out some cookbooks, did some experimenting, and tried again.
Herewith, my recipe. They’re perfect holiday cookies, unusual, delicious, rich, and gluten-free. Enjoy!
Gluten-Free Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies (adapted from a recipe by Moriah VanVleet)
1 3/4 c. America’s Test Kitchen gluten-free flour blend**
3/4 cup of gluten-free oats, coarsely ground in the food processor
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum or ground chia seed (I always use chia these days)
12 tablespoons of butter (1 stick and a half), chilled and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 cup cranberry sauce
In your stand mixer, if you have one, mix the flour blend, ground oats, salt, cloves and chia seed until blended. Add your butter and let the machine run until the dough comes together (5 minutes, at least). Add vanilla and orange zest and briefly combine.
Roll the dough into small-ish balls and place on a parchmented or sprayed cookie sheet. Flatten slightly and use your thumb or index finger to create a little indentation in each. Put the cookie sheets in the freezer for 5-10 minutes while you preheat your oven to 350º. After the dough has chilled, fill each indentation with a tiny blob of cranberry sauce.
Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden. Cool completely before eating.
** Note: you could probably sub in your GF flour blend of choice or even a packaged flour like King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill. I had some of the ATK stuff on hand, so I used it, but I make it a little differently than the recipe calls for in the first place.
It’s been nearly a month, and here’s why: I’ve been on vacation.
My online semester ended on August 7th, and I enjoyed ten days of swimming, running, eating too much, drinking too much–all the good vacation stuff. Then another online teaching gig came up and I grabbed it. It’s a course I’ve been slowly preparing to teach anyway, but because I’m taking over for another instructor who had to depart suddenly, I’ve been thrown into the course three-quarters the way through. To boot, the Internet connection on this lovely Maine island where I’ve been taking my vacation has been TERRIBLE. So when I finally got a window to peek into the course on Friday night–it starts officially on Monday–I realized that I need to grade an essay on Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents (which I have not quite finished reading) this coming week, as well as one on The Important of Being Earnest, which I speed-read yesterday. Next: a Hamlet refresher. It’s all a little nutty. Luckily, the beach is a lovely place to speed-read.
On another note, I loved this post about August in Rome over on Rachel Eats. Enjoy!
My friend Carla sent me this blog post yesterday, by The Wednesday Chef, a blogger I mentioned briefly in my popcorn post “Still Hungry” last month. Her blog is beautiful; her writing has urgency and accessibility, her blog’s look is professional and warm, and she shares great recipes, to boot. I think I sense a new favorite food blog coming on.
Yesterday’s post “Q&A: Writing My Berlin Kitchen” had this piece of wisdom, which I just had to share on a foggy NorCal morning:
I don’t think I exaggerate things when I say that finding discipline to write may be the very hardest part of any writer’s job. Read any book on writing or any memoir of a writer’s life and you are guaranteed to find many, many sentences devoted to the fact that the writer is convinced, at any given point, that they are a fraud and a waste of space and spirit and utterly incapable of writing, so there’s no point in even sitting down and trying because it’s never going to happen anyway and you might as well give up and become a garbage man or a middle manager or go hike the Camino de Santiago or something. At least then you’d be useful. That having been said, a set routine really helps: forcing yourself to sit down at your desk at the same time every day (and then ending at the same time every day) is a must.