Meatless Thursday Salads, and a hat that says "Meow"

Today was lovely and fascinating and involved lots of time with friends new and old. A few snowflakes fell, a gorgeous neighborhood cat with no collar ended up purring in my kitchen for twenty glorious minutes, my new hat for the Women's March arrived, and Tom indulged me by not complaining about the dinner I served him: two beautiful salads with nary a bit of meat in sight. 

Meow! #dontgrab #resist #pussyhat

Meow! #dontgrab #resist #pussyhat

Remind me to tell you about the new internist he recently visited who suggested my carnivore husband go vegan. Hilarious!

Anyway, these salads resulted from A) a desire to use what was in the fridge, B) my having just made the kids dinner and not wanting to commit to much more time in the kitchen, C) my mad love of veggies, and D) a realization that it's been an awfully long time since I contemplated and crafted a proper composed salad.

Result 1:

A wintry mix of celery, cucumber, blood orange, pomegranate, candied kumquats, shaved Pecorino, parsley, blackberry Balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper. 

Result 2:

A hearty "don't let the rest of that baguette go to waste" salad of roasted golden beets, raw shallots (shaved), goat cheese, parsley, the baguette cubed and lightly fried, pimentón, and a very generous drizzle of olive oil.

Neither was difficult, both used a variety of aging ingredients and also pantry staples, and never can you underestimate the beneficence of a beautiful meal. 

Recipes by rote and riff: jazz in the kitchen

I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to live in such a neighborly neighborhood. Yesterday, I made blackberry pies for some of the folks who've been incredibly warm in welcoming us. We have more to make and thank, but in the meantime, the boys took it upon themselves last night to shower, comb their hair (bless his heart, Oliver combed so dramatically that he appeared to have the most extreme comb-over possible. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he looked anything but dashing.), and dress in suits so as to look their nicest as we took our tray o' pies around.

I could whip those pies up on a busy afternoon because doing so is second nature now. When you love to cook, come from a pie-making family, married an ardent pie lover, and have one child who requests birthday pie, you get good at making pie.

And an absolute pleasure that is. Did I tell you about the time I made a pie at a friend's house during a playdate? Because the mood struck and I could? Delightful.

My 40 in forty bit of wisdom for today is thus: master a handful of favorite dishes such that you can make them pretty much anywhere, anytime.

Do this, and you won't need a recipe because your hands and heart know just what to do. You've got the appropriate pots, pans, utensils and ingredients because since you make these dishes so often, the basics are on hand.

The great thing about gaining such fluency with a cadre of beloved recipes is that without realizing it, you also gain greater fluency with general cooking. You can start to riff on dishes, tweaking flavors and textures, personalizing and making them your own. 

Any good recipe was inspired by many others and will influence more to come. Isn't that connectivity with both past and future delightful?

If you're baffled by the idea of mastering five recipes and tucking them in your pocket, start with those you've always loved. Childhood favorites? A great place to begin. The pies I made for our neighbors? Nanny's blackberry pie of course. 

The Brussels sprouts I made yet again tonight? They're my rendition of Blue Duck Tavern's crispy Brussels sprouts with pecorino, capers, and lemon. I first experienced those more than two years ago and knew that I could never go without them as a regular guest in my life. Necessity is the mother of invention, n'est-ce pas?

Candied kumquats? A must for ricotta (also a must). I make both as often as possible. Gumbo? Yes, thank you. Plum tart during plum season? Daily. I have plums on my counter now, just waiting until tomorrow which is when I've willed them to be perfectly ripe. 

Not once will I need to look at a recipe, or if I do, to worry about the instructions or whether or not I have the right ingredients. These are such familiar friends to me now; we pick up right where we last left each other: an empty plate and a licked-clean fork.

Kumquats, ricotta, pie and self-care

We have finally graduated from winter. It's so thrilling that I'm very nearly beside myself. Yesterday, the boys and I planted tulips and snapdragons, some herbs and a beautiful pink geranium Ol picked out. Our gardens are writhing with earthworms both robust and newly born, and we found just one grub which was immediately relocated to the garbage. It's taken years to get our yard in good health, but in the absence of chemicals, things thrive, and the proof is out there in every shovel of earth.

People, I want you to go get some kumquats. Gently cut them into thirds and take out the seeds. Candy them in a simmering mixture of sugar and water. 

While you're at the store getting kumquats, pick up some buttermilk, heavy cream and 2% or whole milk if you don't have those items on hand. Buy some cheesecloth too. I want you to make fresh ricotta.

Once you've done that, find a pretty bowl and spoon some ricotta in. Top that with some of your candied kumquats and syrup. Close your eyes, and take your first bite. Chew, taste, swallow, breathe. Shiver with pleasure.

ricotta and candied kumquats

ricotta and candied kumquats

Do this because you love yourself and you're worth this beautiful, decadent treat. Because it will stick to your ribs and fuel you with real and simple food. Because it's a joy to feed yourself thoughtfully and lovingly, to nourish yourself by spending time to make good food and also to eat it.

If you do this and then, like me, feel you must keep going with this whole creation-nourishment thing, make a pie.

Spend time rolling the crust and carefully cutting lattice strips with a pastry wheel. Think back to your childhood when you cut Play Doh with plastic tools, creating something new and of yourself just like you are now. 

sour cherry pie

sour cherry pie

Feel the butter grease your hands, and watch the flour coat the buttery spots, rendering you a breaded cutlet.  Enjoy it.

If you have some of last summer's bounty in your freezer, use it. It's time. If not, perhaps  you have some fruit lingering in the bowl on your counter, or maybe you picked something wonderful up while you were at the store getting kumquats and ricotta supplies. 

If you have extra pie crust scraps, roll them out and dust them with cinnamon and sugar. When you slide your pie in the oven, put the sweet extras in too; just remember to pull them out before they burn. You'll love this little snack while you're waiting for that pie.

When you remove the pie from the oven, place it carefully on the stovetop or a wire rack to cool. Don't leave it just yet; lean over it, until your nose is almost touching the bubbling filling, and inhale deeply. Hints of vanilla, caramelized fruit, butter and all the supporting elements will tickle your olfactory nerve. You'll feel shot through as if with a rush of endorphins. Bliss.

Let the pie to come to room temperature at least. It's hard to wait but worse to burn your tongue. Plus, you might want to share a slice with a good friend, a neighbor, one of your child's teachers, your spouse. Or maybe not, but either way, you don't want to scald your mouth.

Anticipate the pleasure you'll feel when your fork grabs the first bite of pie, when your hand draws that bite towards your mouth. Remember how wise it is to tend to yourself, treating yourself as you do so many others around you.