It makes me so happy to introduce today’s guest-poster, Dahlia Lithwick. When she’s not cooking for her two boys, or writing about picky eaters for desperate food bloggers, she’s reporting on the law and the courts for Slate. You know, just that. Welcome! -JR
There is well-documented parental shame in having children who are known for being “picky eaters.” The implication is that had their grown-ups just introduced them to kimchee and pemmican as toddlers, they would be more adventurous today. But I have come to discover a deeper, more searing mortification than the having of a child who only eats food the color of his own inner wrist (pasta, white bread, and chicken). And that is the shame of the picky eater who has come to believe that the fault lies chiefly with his mother.
But allow me to start at the beginning: A few years ago, my then-six year old son came home from an overnight at my cousin’s house, raving about her couscous “recipe.”
“But I make couscous!” I yelped. “You won’t eat my couscous.”
“But Evelyn’s is better.” He explained, patiently.
So I dutifully called Evelyn to get her magical couscous recipe. And she said: “I add water.”
And thus began my longstanding fantasy of someday launching a major cookbook/website/cooking show empire entitled “Other Mommies Recipes.” The result would be a collection, nay, a curated and glossily illustrated array, of recipes, made exclusively by people whose main qualification is that they are not me. It would feature foods made precisely as they have always been made at home, frequently requiring two or fewer ingredients, that my kids eat willingly at Other Mommies houses, as they heap scorn upon me for not being a really good cook.
In addition to Elisha’s Mom’s Couscous (couscous, water) Other Mommies Recipes would feature Boaz’s Mom’s Mashed Potatoes (potatoes, butter) and also her roasted potatoes (also, potatoes, butter) and Roi’s Dad’s Famous Jam Sandwiches (jam, bread). It would have a section devoted to Auntie Carolyn’s scrambled eggs (eggs, butter) and Auntie Edwina’s hard boiled eggs (eggs, water) – a dish about which my younger son has waxed so rhapsodic, it would put Elizabeth Bartlett to shame. There could be a whole Chapter on Other Mommies Grilled Cheese (bread, cheese), but I probably couldn’t author it myself without having to be heavily medicated.
I don’t even attempt to make Other Mommies Recipes anymore because after a brief stint of pretending to call the other mommies, laboriously copy down their “recipes” and replicating them at home, I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never ever be able to make pasta the way Tanner’s Mom makes it (pasta, pesto) or the way Grandma makes it (penne, shredded parmesan) or the way my own mom makes it (pasta). And the truly insightful among you have doubtless noticed by now that Other Mommies Recipes have one other unifying feature in common: In addition to featuring two or fewer un-screw-up-able ingredients they also produce food that is somewhere between white and light beige. Because Other Mommies Vegetables is never going to happen.
 The fact that this was produced by a Daddy complicates the naming of my “Other Mommies” cooking empire but I thought in the interest of full disclosure and the Absence of the End of Men, I should explain that Other Daddies have recipes too.
I’ll also be bringing a few copies of The Thing About Luck (Grades 5-9) for my nieces and nephews, which just won a National Book Award in the Young People’s Literature category. (Owen, Nathan, Alison and Amanda: Don’t look!)
This spicy, comfort-y Khao Soi soup is very much my speed. (Another story: Is it my childrens’ speed?) As is this Spicy Chicken weeknight number. Both look like they’d be great vehicles for leftover turkey.
Most likely I’ll be chronicling everything — from the make-ahead cornbread through the turkey to the leftovers — on instagram. Have a great holiday!
When I heard Matt Hranek — acclaimed photographer, William Brown Project blogger, Barbour-jacketed man-about-town — got his own TV show, my first thought was OK, so someone was smart enough to make that official. Because as long as I’ve known Matt (and his wife Yolanda), the guy has been a one man show, regaling us with tales of what he’s seen and tasted in his travels across the country on assignment. Just following him on instagram is enough to inspire (and exhaust) me — on any given day you’ll find him catching salmon in Alaska, scoring vintage military jackets at an upstate flea market, foraging chanterelles in Oregon, or concoting a mad-scientist rabbit rillette at home for Yolanda and their daughter, Clara. (Please watch the Alternate Route trailer to get a taste for what I’m talking about.) Matt stopped moving long enough to answer this month’s edition of 21 Questions. Thanks Matt!
21 Questions for Matthew Hranek Host of Alternate Route, premiering November 20, 10:30 ET, on the Esquire Network.
My life in three bullet points…Live. Laugh. Love. Just kidding. More like Drink. Eat. Sleep.
The kitchen I grew up eating in was…one of many first-generation immigrants — aunts and uncles and grandparents. My Mother’s Family is from Italy (Puglia) My father’s family is Czech. There were gallons of red sauce and meatballs were eaten with the Italians in a kitchen that always smelled of garlic. Then, with the Slovaks, there were piles of Perogies and Kielbasa, in a kitchen that always smelled of pan fried onions, butter, and dill.
When I was a child I wanted to be….a vet. But after one summer internship at the local vets office watching castration after castration and being bitten by way to many drugged up cats, I thought photography might be a better choice. It was.
If I was stuck on a desert island, the food I’d have with me is…the smoked Gaspe, white fish salad and French trout caviar from Russ & Daughters.
A great American is…Ben Franklin. He wanted the national bird to be the wild turkey. Enough said.
When I’m in the South I always…drink the cheapest canned beer (or draft) of the region, buy boiled peanuts from the side of the road and eat everything fried.
I never leave home for a trip without...a cooler. A Coleman cooler or a Trader Joe soft cooler bag is always in the back of our Rover. You never know when you will need to keep something fresh (greens on a hot day or cheese) or cold ( a bottle of wine or beer).
Secret weapon in the kitchen is… a sharp knife, good salt, and one nonstick pan
Turning point in my life was…meeting my wife Yolanda. (This is no bullshit.) She is my best friend, advisor, confidant, editor, navigator, partner, and critic. And a beauty.
I stay healthy by running a few miles almost everyday. I have also in my middle age cut out crappy no-good bread and bagels, and try to not polish off a whole six-pack and bag of chips in one sitting.
Favorite magazine: I read magazines the most when I am flying. The mags in my bag as I board the plane are most often Vanity Fair, The Economist (to look smart), Esquire, GQ, Field and Stream, and some food mag that I dig the monthly feature in like Bon App or Saveur.
Chefs doing something exciting right now… are the guys who are doing the Pubbelly restaurants in Miami (Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi, Pub steak, Barcenoleta). Honest, clever, and great flavors touching on all the stuff and ethnicity I love to eat.
Without…my family, I’m…nothing.
You wouldn’t know it but I… have mad laundry skills! I can get pretty much get any stain out of any fabric and my whites are crazy white. Pretty handy with an iron and steamer too. Italian mother. Duh.
My weekend uniform….Denim, Oxford, wool of some form in the cold weather, wax cotton, loafers, wingtips, the occasional Vans.
My workday uniform…see above plus blazer and knit tie.
I drive a…Land Rover LR4, unapologetically. On the weekends a 1987 Porsche 911 Targa/Carrera. Again, unapologetically.
I may be biased, but the guy interviewed for this week’s Longform podcast sounded particularly smart and handsome.
If someone had handed me GO: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design when I was 10 years old, I can’t help but think my life would’ve gone in a different direction. It’s written and designed by the legendary Chip Kidd and it has the power to make a kid (and a grown-up) see the world with completely new eyes. (For starters, you will never look at a FedEx truck the same way again. Who out there knows what I’m referring to??) Too many gem-like moments to touch on here, but how about this sentence: “You should definitely recognize the alphabet as a miraculous thing, and not take it for granted.”
Did you read Unbroken? Or Tears in the Darkness? Or any other WWII-related book by a writer with chops? Well, if so, you will probably love Wil S. Hylton’s Vanished, published next month, which tells the story of a special unit in the military charged with recovering lost bodies of American soldiers from various wars — and the WWII pilot they return to his family, 70 years later.
Astute readers will remember a plug for Cricket Magazines a year or two ago, but as my daughters have graduated from Ladybug and Click to the more science- and literary-minded Ask, Muse, and Odyssey — and as I watch my 11-year-old literally sprint to the mail-slot when she sees that her magazines have been delivered — I feel the need to endorse the whole publishing operation again. Cricket has a magazine for any kid of any age with any interest — and a one-year subscription makes a supercool birthday gift.
If I was getting married again, I’d register for this.
If I was feeding toddlers again, I’d hit up John Derian for these.
Attention Philadelphia Metr0 Types: My cousin started an interior design company. Check out her just-launched website…then call her for a consultation!
Speaking of which, now that Halloween is over, we can get down to the business of my favorite holiday on earth: Thanksgiving. Starting next week, look for a “Countdown to Thanksgiving Series” on DALS — everything from sides to pies to a genius trick for staying organized from my very own Thanksgiving matriarch, aka my mom.
Have a great weekend.
Photo credit: Hirsheimer/Hamilton for Bon Appetit.
The other day my mom was telling me how much she loved the Balaboosta cauliflower story I posted last week. “I’m going to make that recipe,” she said, determined. “But I hate printing from the blog. It always prints out so many pages and I don’t know how to stop it.” It occurred to me that if my mother (aka, my biggest fan) did not know that there was an easy way to print out a DALS recipe, then probably a lot of you guys don’t either. In fact, there are probably a lot of things I assume you know, but don’t. So here’s a quick review.
Did you know….
…There’s a Print Function at the bottom left of each post, under the facebook “Like” icon. If you click it, the post turns into a pdf that you can print without the huge ink-depeleting photos. There are some thumbnail photos at the bottom, but they are small and will be gone soon. (Working on it!)
…There’s a Book Club Discussion Guide for those of you who have been nice enough to select Dinner: A Love Story as your book club selection? Click that yellow box in the right margin or just click here.
…There’s a Huge Archive of every single recipe published on this blog since March 2010. Scroll to the tippy tippy top of the home page and you’ll see a “Recipe Index” link in the chalkboard.
…You Can Be Eligiblefor Giveaways if you subscribe to my newsletter by clicking the “subscribe to my newsletter” box in the right margin, or just click here.
…That There’s a whole Dinner: A Love Story community you can tap into on facebook? If you ever find yourself in a quandry (cooking, parenting, or otherwise), send me an email and if it’s relevant enough, I can post immediately on the page. (This week, I posted for reader Andrea who was on the hunt for good pre-school potluck ideas.)
…that “Roar” might be the best pre-game pump-up song for 10-year-old girls ever in the history of pre-game pump-up songs for 10-year-old girls?
Thanks to Linda for sending in the above photo of beautiful little Addie. “Thought you’d get a kick out of this picture,” she wrote over the summer. “As you can see I travel with your book everywhere!”
This is probably not the smartest business move for a cookbook author who writes books with 100+ recipes…or for a food blogger who wants readers to, you know, come back tomorrow — but I am going to say it anyway: In spite of everything you’ve read (on this blog and elsewhere), you really only need a handful of culinary moves in your back pocket to survive as a parent. Here’s the indisputably comprehensive, 100% definitive, not-at-all-subjective repertoire Andy and I came up with for your reading and cooking pleasure.
Chicken Orzo Soup (page 290, Dinner: A Love Story) Why: Because there’s no problem that can’t be hashed out over a bowl of this stuff. Best When: It’s soccer or football season; you want to make a deposit in the freezer bank; your best friend and her kids are coming for a weekend lunch; your son is under the weather; your daughter is stressed about the algebra test.
The Stalwart Homemade Pizza Why: Because it’s easier than you think. Best When: You want to go under-the-radar meatless with the kids; you’re trying to clear out an end-of-the-week refrigerator; lots of people with lots of kids and lots of different tastes are coming for dinner; you add up how much you spent on take-out last month and have a sad, empty feeling deep down inside.
The New Staple Kale Salad Why: Why not? Seriously, though. Because kale has so much more earthy flavor, more nutritional punch, more oomph and body than regular lettuce (no offense, regular lettuce), and because even the smallest portion feels like it has the magical power of canceling out that cider donut you ate this morning. Best When:Your kids are too young to understand that people might make fun of them (and their parents) for eating kale. If you can hook ‘em young, you’re golden. And if you don’t wan’t to call it kale, lie and call it “salad.” How’s that for ethical parenting?
The Ol’ Reliable Snickerdoodles Why: Because I guarantee you have all the ingredients in your house at all times. Best When: You forgot to make something for the bake sale and the bake sale is tomorrow; you are charged with bring the classroom peanut-free treat; you are in the mood to blow big and small minds alike.
The Template Chicken and Rice Why: Because it’s not just learning a recipe, it’s learning a technique. Best When: You are transitioning the baby to real food; you are learning how to cook; the kids are on a Sendak bender.
The Holiday Hallmark Homemade Franks & Beans Why: Because it’s important to get kids associating certain holidays with certain dishes (and because, forreal, when else can you justify it?) Best When: A fire is blazing in the hearth; you have the whole day to do nothing but bake beans and carve pumpkins; you’ve invited every witch, ghost, princess, and Ironman (and their parents) for a trick-or-treat launch party. (more…)
Does ethical parenting exist? Even if this is the quintessential New York story, it’s still an irresistible read. (And as a soccer mom, the annotation all the way to the right of the opening image made me laugh out loud.)
Last night, Jenny agreed to watch The Wire, breaking a five-year stalemate, which is both thrilling (like sharing the best book ever with someone) and also scary (what if she hates it?). I’m gonna do the whole series again, right along with her. Join us!
I don’t know about you but the DALS house is pumped for this premiere. (“The contestants may be small, but the challenges are huuuuge….”) Add some homemade Stromboli and we’ve got ourselves a Friday night.
PS: For no good reason, I’m giving away a copy of Dinner: A Love Storytoday. Leave a comment before tonight (Friday, September 27) at 8:00 ET, and you are eligible to win. Update: Keely (#9) is our winner. Thanks for playing everyone!
“Make Dinner Not War,” huh? The pacifist ethos may look good on a bumper sticker, and it may reign supreme at our family dinner table, but when it comes to, say, girls’ soccer or beach-kadima-fer-chrisskes or routinely kicking her husband’s arse in a “friendly” game of Clue? Jenny is not to be trifled with. It’s why I hesitate to tell her my top score in Ruzzle, because I know it’s only a matter of time before she borrows my phone — and then hands it back fifteen minutes later, having destroyed my record. It’s why I stopped playing tennis with her, lo these many years ago. We’d be hitting the ball around like normal husbands and wives and the moment would come when she’d walk up to the net and ask, casually tucking a ball into the pocket of her shorts, “Wanna play a few games?” Like an idiot, I’d say yes. And suddenly, she couldn’t miss. Every shot: in. Every impossible angle: not impossible, apparently! I’d hit the ball as hard as I could, and it would come back harder. I’m worried, as I write this, that Jenny is going to come off as too Tiger Mom-ish, that she only cares about winning, which is not really true. So I’ll put it this way: Jenny would rather win than lose. And she usually does, too.
The key word here is usually.
Last Saturday, we picked up some fresh striped bass from our fish guy at the farmer’s market. I drizzled it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and as I was going outside to fire up the grill, Jenny said she’d be in charge of making a blender sauce for the fish. A blender sauce with roasted red peppers and walnuts and something else I can’t quite remember, because the truth is, I stopped listening as soon I heard roasted red peppers and walnuts. I must have made an expression that gave me away.
“What?” she said. “You don’t think that sounds good?”
“No, no,” I said. “It sounds really good. It’s just that this fish is so fresh, I don’t know if we need it. I was thinking of something a little lighter and cleaner-tasting.”
“Like, with those tomatoes we got today or something. A tomato coulis. Is that the right word? Tomato coulis?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “How about I make mine and you make yours, and we’ll have a taste -off.”
Dinner as competitive sport: This is what passes for fun in the DALS house on a Saturday night. We retreated to our respective corners — Jenny with the blender, me with the mini-Cuisinart — and worked in silence, as serious as monks. We roped the kids in at some point, too — appointing them as the official arbiters, a role they naturally cherish — and put a dollop of both sauces on every plate. After a few bites and some mindful chewing, everybody weighed in. The results, I do not regret to say, were clear: The tomato sauce. In a walk. Even Jenny conceded it was better, and you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that doesn’t happen much around here. Victory at last!
The truth is, Jenny’s sauce was better than mine, more sophisticated, more interesting. Add some feta and it’d be an amazing dip, served with pita chips and some gherkins. It would also have been fantastic with grilled chicken. But with fish this fresh, just off the grill, on a beautiful late summer night? Nuh-uh. Not in my house. – Andy
In a blender, whirl together:
2 roasted red peppers (halve, brush with olive oil, and broil for 20 minutes; then remove pith and peel off skin. I used the ones from our CSA, which aren’t too big — medium-size, I’d say)
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon balsamic (wished we had red wine vinegar)
Small handful walnuts
Salt & pepper
Squeeze of Sriracha
In a food processor, whirl together until emulsified:
Couple of handfuls fresh grape tomatoes (I used red and yellow)
Few generous glugs of olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lime OR 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Two basil leaves
Squeeze of Sriracha
Salt & pepper, to taste
Did you know that all these dinners I write about…all those tips and tricks and weekly menu plans I dream up daily are really just a way to reel you in so I can discuss the real mission of DALS? i.e. the mission to support writers and artists doing cool things everywhere? The latest of the crop is my friend Kevin — illustrator, designer, father of two of the cutest boys you’ve ever seen — who has been working on an insanely gorgeous illustrated alphabet book called The Curious ABCs for seven years. SEVEN years. And now he’s launched a kickstarter campaign to get it published as a hardcover and an app. Granted, I am a sucker for a good line drawing, but the artwork is beautiful, and the book is designed to grow with your child. Each letter (like the A above) is comprised of things that start with the letter A — anchor, angel, apple, etc. and when you own the app, all kinds of cool things light up at your kids’ fingertips. I just pledged my support and I hope you can, too.
What else is going on? A quick-and-dirty round-up:
I work for Bon Appetit, so you can obviously take this with a grain of salt, but their take on things like the new iPhone launch reminds me why it’s the best food magazine out there. They’ve got every angle covered. Literally!
As long as you’re over there: What’s a Chegan? How sweet does victory taste? What’s Serena’s most favorite thing to eat in the world? The 2013 US Open Champ tells all.
Breakfast: The most important meal of the day. Or is it?
Phoebe handed me The Fault in Our Stars last month, and I have to say, it’s one of the better books I’ve read this year. Young Adult or otherwise. (My friend Laurie told me if I liked that, I would love this even more.)
What’s the new Braised Short Ribs? As in, what’s your default plan for fall entertaining these days? No link here just curious!
Lastly, another reminder: The Kindle version of Dinner: A Love Story is on sale for $2.99 right now. As my friend Christine said, you’ll earn that back the first time you cook from my book instead of ordering takeout.
Update! If you have read my book, Dinner: A Love Story, if you have cooked from my book, lived with my book, are sick to death of hearing about my book, you should feel free to skip to the bottom of this post. And know that I am eternally grateful. In no small way, your support keeps this blog going.
For those of you who haven’t read the book, I just wanted to let you know something: Guess what guys? I wrote a book! And if you read this blog with any kind of regularity, if you get excited by things like mix-and-match menus and Venn diagram-dinners, or if you are the type of person who is required to feed people every day while also doing small things like holding down a full-time job, I think there’s a good chance you will like it.
At last count, there were well over 100 readers on Amazon who have said as much. I only bring that up as an excuse to quote one of the more recent reviewers: “Skip ‘Lean In‘ and try this!” How much do I love that? A lot.
In other exciting news: Dinner: A Love Story is going into its fourth printing. And for those of you who are inclined to read a cookbook on a Kindle, there’s an Amazon special going on right now through October 7. Dinner: A Love Story has been selected as one of the Kindle 100 (I have no idea what this means, but I’m going to pretend for our purposes that it is a big stinkin’ deal) and is only $2.99.
And then there’s this:
An honest-to-god, 350-page manuscript for my next book. It’s done. Well, not quite. But a big huge hunk of it is. And if I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on the celebration including a batch of Great Grandma Turano’s meatballs. Tonight. More details on the way very soon!
Thank you for indulging me. Back to regularly scheduled dinner programming on Monday. Also, big thanks to Jessica, of Feed Me Dearly and her gorgeous pup for sending along the photo way up top.
All right people, I’m back. Since last we spoke I have been cranking on work — that vacation I was so wistful for? Those handstands on the beach and dinners on the screened-in porch? They became distant memories as soon as the iphone photos were auto-flowed into their own Apple album. Closed the book on summer vacation! Gone! To quote one of Pixar’s more brilliant characters, “I never look back, darling, it distracts from The Now.” So what is The Now…now? It’s back-to-school. It’s back to eighty-five pairs of shoes by the front door. Back to forgetting to check backpacks. Back to alarm clocks, school lunch-packing, breathless breakfasts, and…structure. To start the year off right, naturally, I’ve put together a little gift for everyone — me included: A Sunday-to-Thursday weekly dinner plan (plus shopping list — click on link at the end.) But instead of just, you know, giving it to you, I thought I’d also share the reason why I chose each recipe for each particular night — why pulled chicken on Sunday? Why salad pizza on Wednesday? There is a method to the madness and in the spirit of back-t0-school, I figured you’d want a little lesson plan to go along with the recipes. Here you go and good luck!
Chopped Tomato & Avocado Salad with Red Onion, Cilantro and that homemade vinaigrette you made earlier
Why? So you can make extra BBQ pulled chicken. It freezes well, and is a great thing to have on hand if you have to make a quick serves-one meal for an athlete who needs to eat before or after a game or practice. Or a picky eater who won’t touch whatever it is you are serving. Or a spouse who staggers in late, after everyone has eaten. Alternately: You can freeze the entire thing and have a full dinner for four ready for later in the week. The second half of the cabbage will be used for Tuesday’s dinner.
Green Salad with tomatoes, red onion, and that homemade vinaigrette you made on Sunday
Why? Never start with something ambitious on Monday. Remember: You are in it for the long game. This is easy, fast, seasonal, and requires a minimal number of pots. In other words, total keeper. Also: Feel free to replace the country ham with bacon — or with olive oil if you want to make it a Meatless Monday. Make twice as much salad as you eat. Save the rest (undressed) in a bag for salad pizza on Wednesday.
Why? It works because it has a lot of overlapping ingredients with the Tofu you’ll have on Thursday, but feels like something else entirely. The only thing you have to worry about is spacing them out well so people don’t get soy-overload. Also, this is extremely light — another reason why it’s nicknamed “redemption salad” — so feel free to round out the meal with a baguette or some noodles.
Salad Pizza (add some of the basil you have leftover from Monday night)
Why? It’s quick and healthy and a nice warm-weather pizza. If kids won’t touch a salad pizza, top one half of the pie with pizza sauce and mozzarella for them. (Note: sauce and mozzarella are not included on the attached shopping list.)
Why? I love this meal because it’s totally pantry-driven, so if it works on Thursday, great. If you don’t get to it till next Thursday, that works, too. Obviously the tofu will expire at some point — but unlike meat or fish which comes with use-it-or-lose-it pressure, it gives you a little breathing room. Another reason to make this? It’s so freaking good! If someone protests on the grounds of tofu (as my children still do) heat up that extra bbq pulled chicken from the freezer and slap it on a sandwich.
Friday Go out. Call it in. Eat in the car. Whatever you do, take the night off!
My favorite children’s books belong to two distinct categories: the ones I adored as a kid, and then the ones I’ve loved as a father reading to my kids. To the first pile belong treasures like Homer Price (who can ever forget Uncle Ulysses’s doughnut machine!), The Tomten (about a mysterious elfin man who rummages a remote farm by winter night, talking to the animals), The Great Brain (oh, how I wanted to be him, pickpocketing the world with his schemes!), and The Hardy Boys catalogue (the recurrence of their friend Chet, in his jalopy, on the prowl for lemonade and chocolate cake while the brothers face harrowing danger, still cracks me up).
To the second, the father pile, belong almost anything by Chris Van Allsberg (The Stranger, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, The Polar Express) and The Hobbit (still one of the world’s great travelogues) and, say, Penguin Dreams (the surreal, wonderfully psychedelic journey of a penguin through his own dreams). For our purposes today, however, I’m limiting myself to a couple of desert-island books, one in each category. I realize only now in writing that both are appropriately animated by food (and one, perhaps the strangest and funniest children’s book I’ve ever read, is actually about animated food!). So here goes…
Before this book, which I read at age nine or ten, I’m not sure I fully understood how books work, how a good one can deposit a secret world so whole and alive in your head. A Newberry Medal winner from the 1940s, the story centers around one rabbit family, living on “the Hill” in Connecticut, and begins with the refrain, “New folks coming.” See, the Hill has fallen on hard times because the big house there—and its fantastic garden—have fallen into disrepair after a string of “mean, shiftless, and inconsiderate” owners. Now as the animals grow skinny and sip their “thin soup” everything relies on the new folks being planting folks. Meanwhile Little Georgie is going up “Danbury way,” where times are even harder, to retrieve his old Uncle Analdas, who’s just lost his wife and whose dinners consist of a skimpy turnip. Thinking about Little Georgie out in all that wilderness sets Mother to fretting in the kitchen, worrying about “the possibility of Dogs, Cats, and Ferrets; of shotguns, rifles, and explosives; of traps and snares; of poison and poison gases” while longwinded Father, of southern stock, tries to reassure her of the boy’s capabilities. And sure enough, son and uncle return, the new folks move in, and everything seems quite promising indeed until one night, as Little Georgie sallies forth on another errand, there’s the screeching of car brakes from the road, and Little Georgie disappears.
Though known for his great illustrations, Robert Lawson is an evocative, lyrical writer. I won’t ruin his ending, which is simple, moving, and wonderful, but I will say that, first and foremost, Rabbit Hill is a book about generosity—at its most elemental about the overwhelming gratitude we feel when down and hungry and offered food—and that’s a very good thing to be reminded of in this world. Ages 7+
Um—I don’t quite know where to begin with this one except to say that when I read it to our son, Leo, some years ago, he wore the most quizzical expression for 169 pages, kept snorting with laughter, and said, “I don’t understand any of this!” which seemed to make him happy and all the more interested. And he never let me stop reading.
First published in Australia in 1918, the book centers itself on Bunyip Bluegum, a tidy, proper koala bear who leaves home to see the world because his uncle’s whiskers are too long, and take up all the space in their tree house, and soak in the soup at dinnertime, which is depressing. Before long, Bluegum’s fallen in with Bill Barnacle, a sailor, and his friend Sam Sawnoff, “a penguin bold,” whom he finds eating lunch. “They had a pudding in a basin,” reads the book, “and the smell that arose from it was so delightful that Bunyip Bluegum was quite unable to pass on.” This pudding is named Albert, and is a little foul-mouthed, and takes no guff. And it loves to be eaten, never runs out, and can transmogrify into the thing you most want to eat. (“It’s a Christmas steak and apple-dumpling Puddin’,” says the penguin. “It’s a Magic Puddin’.”)
Of course, rollicking high jinx ensue, the Puddin’ is stolen, strange characters appear, long, wacky, wonderful poems are delivered, the Puddin’ sulks and snarls and ripostes, and the pictures are fantastic. Lindsay said he wrote the book because children like eating and fighting, but I might add that what they—and their parents—like most of all is to laugh together. And there’s no weirder, funnier children’s book out there, one based entirely on the wonderful ways we feed ourselves, with words, stories, adventures, and cobbler. (Ages 8+)
FYI: Mike is on a West Coast tour right now, reading from The Telling Room tonight, 8/19, at Vroman’s (Pasadena); Tuesday, 8/20 at Book Passage (San Francisco); Wednesday, 8/21, at Omnivore Books (SF); Thursday, 8/22 at Reader’s Books (Sonoma); then Powell’s (Portland) on 8/26.
I’m a *little* worried this is going to sound like a wedding toast.
I have basically been following Mike Paterniti around for the past twelve years. When I worked at Esquire — as a kid, practically — Mike was the star writer who would come into town, from Portland, Maine, with his Patagonia backpack and his good vibes, and be nice to all the peons, and then fly off to crazy places and bring back stories like this and this, stories that would make 25 year-old assistant editors like me say, Damn, it would be nice to work with a writer like that someday. Then, when I went to GQ in 2002, I went — in large part — because Mike was there and, by taking the job, I would finally become his full-time editor and have the chance to work on stories like this. Then, a few years ago, I moved on to Random House — in large part — to work with Mike again, on a book he’d been obsessing over for the better part of a decade. That book, The Telling Room, was published yesterday, and the easy thing to say about it is that it’s a slow food fable about a cheesemaker, named — proof that there is a god? — Ambrosio, who lives in a tiny village (pop. 80) in Spain and makes his cheese, according to an ancient family recipe, from the milk of sheep that graze on chamomile and sage. But that’s not really what the book is about. This book is about the heartbreaking story of Ambrosio’s world-class cheese, yes, but it’s also about Spain and the ghosts of Civil War, about friendship and betrayal, about love and memory and forgiveness, and, most important, about stories. The stories we tell ourselves in order to live.
Do I love this book? Yes.
Did I warn you this was going to sound like a wedding toast? Yes.
In the course of writing and reporting his book, Mike spent a lot of time in Spain. He estimates he made 15 to 20 trips to Guzman, in fact, during which he learned a lot about Ambrosio and his magical cheese (it was said to conjure memories), but also about family dinner. Given that this is a blog dedicated to that very subject, we asked Mike to tell us how they do in the Castilian highlands. He did, and we’re glad. Congrats, Mike! — Andy
Of all Spanish institutions, family dinner ranks as one of my favorites. Why? Because it happens to be Spanish chaos theory at its best—and the Spaniards are good at chaos. After all, what other nation runs with its bulls… or holds a massive tomato-pelting event, in which citizens throw over 90,000 pounds of tomatoes at each other… or has an annual, mandatory, four-day, wine-soaked party—known as the fiesta—in every village of its great, sun-scorched land?
In classic Spanish fashion, then, family dinner is a microcosm of this craziness and big joy. And of course, there’s a fair amount of confusion about when dinner really is. Is it the big meal in the middle of the day, known as the comida? Or is it the late-evening, smaller meal known as cena? (The Spaniards love their food so much they have five designated grazing times a day: desayuno, or breakfast; almuerzo, the late-morning snack; comida in the early afternoon; and then the latter meals of the day: merienda, or late afternoon snack; and cena, dinner.)
Cena is the best—and in summer begins anywhere between 10 and midnight. In the plazas of the cities, you’ll see families seated at outdoor restaurant tables, telling animated stories, wine, chorizo, and grilled pimientos on the table, a simple green salad and some lomo on the way, the kids sprinting madly over cobblestones, playing soccer, chasing birds, when suddenly someone walks by on stilts, or an orchestra begins to play, or some impromptu marching band comes banging through the square. The voices get louder. Now the gambas sizzling in olive oil are put on the table, the laughter echoes, the kids shriek with joy as they come and go, grabbing tidbits from the table.
In the little Castilian village of Guzmán, where I moved my family one summer as I wrote my book, we often found ourselves with an invite to my friend Ambrosio’s telling room for cena. A telling room is a little hobbit hole dug into the hill on the north boundary of town, most of them equipped with a simple wood-plank table, a fireplace full of dried grapevines, which gives the grilled lamb a sweet taste, and a porron—a glass, decanter-like vessel with a spout—sloshing with homemade red wine. In Ambrosio’s telling room, the shutters were thrown open so we could look out over the picturesque village with its palacio and impressive church as we ate and drank. In fact, I’d often look up from the table, tricked by the illusion that I was gazing upon some ever-changing painting on the wall that just happened to be the village of Guzmán itself. (more…)
There are certain food items that Jenny has banned from the house forever. Most are desserts. Actually, all are desserts. There were the Mallomars when we were first married, which we stashed in the refrigerator and ate by the box until she turned, viper-like, upon them. There were those sugar-coated, citrus-y gum drops from T Joe’s, which she loved dearly for many months, right up to the day when, in the middle of eating a few of them after dinner, she turned to me and said, “Ugh, god, why am I eating these? What is my problem? I think we need to do ‘Turn Over a New Leaf’ month on the blog.” There was the bag of peanut butter chips that she ate by the handful — paired with alternating handfuls of dark chocolate chips — and that she loved so much that she had to throw them away, or risk eating every one of them. (It was hard to watch, as if the chips, by merely existing, had done her wrong.) There my personal favorite, the batch of snickerdoodles that she first saw as a revelation but then grew so disgusted by that she actually poured water over them before throwing them away to ensure that she wouldn’t, upon reflection, dive back into the garbage for more.
And then there was the tres leches cake that Abby and I made last week.
My struggles with baking have been well-chronicled on this particuar weblog — Jenny loves to say that baking is not my “thing” and she’s right — but Abby had been after me for a month to make this with her, ever since she’d tried it in school on some kind of end-of-year, Spanish celebration day. Abby is nothing if not determined, and had been dying to recreate it for us at home. So I finally relented, busted out the dreaded mixer, and pulled a recipe from Bon Appetit. To my amazement, what we made resembled a cake and tasted… boy, did it ever taste good. Like, seriously, seriously good, and I am not a huge lover of cake. The best part of the process came at the end, after the cake was cooked, when we put it on a baking sheet and Abby poked tiny holes all over the top of it, and then slowly, over the course of several minutes, drizzled seemingly endless quantities of various milk products over the top of it. “Where does all that milk go?” Abby asked, as the liquid disappeared. Then she tried to lift it off the counter, and understood.
Baking may not be my thing, but Jenny didn’t exactly turn up her nose at this creation. She loaded a canister of Reddi Whip and downed two slices, and then cursed her powers of self-restraint, and then had another piece, and then got angry and threatened to throw the rest away. Good sense prevailed, however, and the cake lived to see another day. But that was all. After night two, with about a quarter of it left, Jenny dumped it into the trash and banned it for life. “Don’t bring that into the house again,” she said. “It’s too good.” – Andy
Tres Leches Cake
Adapted only very slightly from Bon Appetit
1 tablespon unsalted butter (for pan)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup evaporated skim milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon good dark rum
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter bottom and sides of cake pan (I used a spring-form pan, but not sure that was necessary). Set aside. In large bowl, whisk your flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. In another large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until firm peaks form, about 7-8 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in 2 tsp. of the vanilla and the lemon zest. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into pan; smooth top.
Bake for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 325° and continue baking until cake is golden brown and middle springs back when pressed, 20-25 minutes more. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.
Whisk 1/2 tsp. vanilla, evaporated milk, and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Poke holes all over top of cake (we used a wooden skewer). Drizzle half of sauce over cake, letting liquid soak in before adding more. Let cake sit for 10 minutes.
Invert a plate on top of cake. Lift rack and gently invert cake onto plate. Drizzle remaining sauce over. Dust with powdered sugar.
When you live with someone like Andy, it can be hard to know when he likes something and when he really likes something at the table. This is because his policy is to express how good dinner is if someone else has made it for him — I mean really express it — even if it’s maybe just mediocre. He’ll drop his fork. He’ll “Oh-My-God” a few times. He’ll mmmm through the entire first minute of eating. If it sounds disingenuous to indiscriminately dispense this kind of flattery, he might indulge that accusation for a second before saying that he’d rather err on the side of being overly gracious. As he’s fond of pointing out: “There’s nothing weirder than cooking for someone who doesn’t mention the food they’re eating while they’re eating it.” I love this about him.
Unless, of course I’m the one cooking for him, in which case it drives me batsh*t crazy.
Though it’s weird to even put this in writing, you might say that cooking dinner has sorta kinda become my livelihood. And in that way, it does me no good to be serenaded with “Wows” when I’ve just cooked something that may or may not be book- or blog-worthy. When I need an honest-to-god, incisive breakdown of whether a recipe works or not, the guy is utterly useless. (The kids on the other hand? You might say they are gifted in the Critiquing Department.)
I have noticed, however, that there is a subtle hierarchy to Andy’s compliments. It’s always a good sign when he asks “What’s in here?” after the first bite. It’s even better when the word “keeper” is thrown around at some point during the meal. But I think the compliment that registers highest on the truth-o-meter for me is what he said last Thursday night, after eating nothing but a tiny portion of leftover macaroni and cheese along with three or four salads made right from the CSA box.
“Wow,” he said. “I could eat like this every night.”
There’s a theme to the dinners that earn this compliment. The meals are almost always healthy. They generally involve fish, really fresh, in-season vegetables, and very little intervention on the part of the cook. The compliment is apparently so rare, that I can recite every single meal I’ve made him in 15 years that has earned the honor:
We had leftover Mac & Cheese, but you could also just serve salads and vegetables with good warm baguette toasts. Slice one baguette in half lengthwise, ten brush with olive oil (or spread with a little butter) and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and heat in 350°F oven for 15 minutes. While it warms, make:
Any of these Summer Salads (from 2013 round-up), which includes the cilantro-napa cabbage salad you see above
Speaking of world-class burgers, a very kind reader (whose name and email I lost!) sent along a recipe link for replicating that Hatch Burger I loved so much at Umami last year. Thank you reader whose name and email I lost.
We are so bad about television. Here we are, in the Golden Age of the medium, and the only thing we watch right now, in real time, is So You Think You Can Dance. We do eventually make our way to most of the good stuff, though — we joined Friday Night Lights in Season Two, Breaking Bad in Season Three, and Homeland halfway through Season Two. Our latest one came via a recommendation from a reliable (in the taste department) friend: Top of the Lake, which was created by Jane Campion. Has anyone out there seen this? We loved it, loved the acting, but maybe loved, most of all, the scenery. I wanted to press pause on every frame of this thing. Insanely beautiful.
This piece from Bill Buford is just fun to read, and it makes me hungry.
You’ll be hearing more about this book next week on DALS, but if you feel like getting out and you live anywhere near Brooklyn and you want a free drink and enjoy listening to great writers read from their work, then swing by Powerhouse on Wednesday, July 31 at 7:00 to hear Michael Paterniti (and me) talk about — and read from — his new book, The Telling Room.
*Parental warning: As to be expected in a documentary about the music industry, there are a few unsavory word choices used here and there, but I found it navigable for a nine-year-old.
If you asked our family what summer means, you’d get a few different answers. The girls would say tomato sandwiches, no school, and ice cream. (Seriously, it’s a physical impossibility not to eat a Flav-R-Ice or a scoop of mint cookie every day.) If you asked Andy, it would be tomato sandwiches and road-trips where you’re driving down some county road in upstate New York and you come upon a Rolling Stones-tattooed barn like the one you see above. (We had to pull over to take a picture.) If you asked me, though, it would be tomato sandwiches, a honeysuckle-infused warm breeze off the Hudson, and, of course, the DALS Best of Summer Awards. With no further ado…the Third Annual Dollys!
Best Thing We’d Always Been Too Afraid to Make, Then Made And Discovered Wasn’t Hard: Fried Zucchini Blossoms A few summers ago, we were lucky enough to eat at The River Café in London where we dined on many many delicious things – all of which have been completely subsumed in our collective memory by one dish: Fritto Misto, featuring Zucchini Blossoms. While it’s probably true that deep-fried battered anything is almost cheating when it comes to culinary trickery, these vegetables were different. Instead of rendering them greasy, heavy, and filling, the deep-frying seemed to have the opposite effect: The blossoms on our plates were light, airy, melt-in-your-mouth-y, and gone in 30 seconds. We attempted replication last week in our own kitchen with a box from our favorite farmer’s market vendor. Success! – Jenny
Best Seasonal Sundae Topping: Fresh Strawberry Smash Hurry up and get on this one fast, while those tiny, ruby-red, slightly soft strawberries are dominating the farmer’s market. Ever since we made the pilgrimage to Doug’s Fish Fry in Skaneateles, New York a few years ago and had fresh smashed strawberries drizzled on top of homemade vanilla ice cream, I’ve been wanting to bust this out at home. This will be our year. To execute: Remove stems from berries and halve. (Don’t shy away from the berries that look overripe; those are the best ones.) Put them in a small mixing bowl, sprinkle with sugar, and smash with a fork, until the juice is running and the consistency looks saucy but not smooth. Spoon over vanilla ice cream — or, even better, sandwiched between a slab or pound cake and some fresh whipped cream. – Andy
Best Vegan Breakfast: Strawberries and Vanilla Almond Milk If you’re not going to smash up those overripe berries for dessert, save them for breakfast. Add a bunch into a drinking glass, pour vanilla almond milk into the glass, then dump the whole thing into a blender and give it a whirl. Every time I start the day with one of these, I think “Now that’s how you start a day.” Then I chug a gallon of coffee. — JR
Best Summer Jam: Wakin’ on a Pretty Day, by Kurt Vile You know when you’re in one of those phases when you can’t bear to listen to any of the music you have? When you’re sick of your entire iTunes library? When you’re out running and you spend more time scrolling — click, click, click, click — than you do actually listening to music? That was me a few weeks ago. So I emailed my buddy Will, who as far as I can tell, knows as much about music as any man alive and asked him: What should I be listening to right now? He wrote back instantly: “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” by Kurt Vile, a song he described as “breezy good times.” Three weeks later, I’ve probably listened to it 200 times. Which is more impressive/troubling given that the song is nine minutes long. The kids love the zen-like video and it’s perfect for summer night when the patio door is open and the grill is going. — AW
Best Summer Time-Saver: Grab-and-Go Bag We do a lot of road-tripping over the summer, which means we do a lot of packing and unpacking and…forgetting toothbrushes and braces gear and lip balm and hairbrushes. To save ourselves from the first-world anxiety that ensues, we bought the girls little cosmetic kits last year and filled them with supplies collected in hotel rooms and Target’s travel-size bins. The products live in the cosmetic kit year round, so all the girls have to do when packing for a quick trip is throw the kit in the duffel. This is one of those things that brings me (and I think them, too) inexplicable happiness every time it works. Especially when I forget my own lip balm. — JR
Easiest Summer Dinner: Grilled Sausages Thursday is my new favorite day — it’s the day I pick up my farm-share box at Stone Barns. That means I don’t have to do much by way of dinner. I throw together a few fresh salads, then fire up the grill or the skillet, and cook a few sausages that I picked up at the farmer’s market the previous weekend. (Last week, I added some hot dogs to the platter for a friend of Abby’s, but she ended up saying “I don’t usually like sausages, but I’m going to tell my mom to get these!” then ignored the Hebrew Nationals altogether.) Because of the bountiful produce, you don’t need a lot of meat — maybe a single link each — and the whole thing comes together faster than you can drink a glass of chilled rose. – JR
Most Indispensable Summer Cookbook: Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables You need to own this book. Full disclaimer here: I do not own this book. But I’ve given it to pretty much all of my food-loving friends, including Todd, who lives down the street from me, and who I email right about this time every year asking if I can borrow it for a little while. He is nice enough to say yes, but it’s really not so fair of me to take it from him right as the summer produce is peaking. The book is not so much a cookbook as it is an A-to-Z encyclopedia of vegetable inspiration – and it is always the first thing I think to turn to when the CSA box includes a head of kohlrabi or a bunch of garlic scapes or rutabaga or something else I feel utterly ill-equipped to whip into dinner. Waters assumes you’re starting with the freshest stuff possible, so the recipes are always simple (as in, again, yesterday’s slaw) and always inspired. OK, Todd, I’m going to one-click it right now. — JR
Best Accompaniment to Anything That’s Been Grilled: No-Mayo Slaw We like a classic creamy picnic slaw as much as the next guy (see page 242 of my book), but lately we’ve been super into brighter, healthier, more experimental takes on the genre. Whether it’s our MVP kale-avocado-pickled onion, fennel-apple-sunflower seed (page 243 of my book), the Lee Bros cabbage, peanut, and lime slaw, anything from the slaw section of The Grilling Book (photo above left: Peden + Munk), nothing offers the same kind of fresh, cool counterpoint to the char of a whatever is coming off the Weber. — JR & AW
Best Reminder of Why it’s Fun to Be a Kid: Pink Soccer Socks It’s crazy how much neon is flying around our house these days. It’s 1987 all over again. (Minus, thank god, the Forenza sweaters.) Neon shirts, neon sneakers, neon hairbands, neon lacrosse sticks. And now, maybe my favorite of all, ridiculously pink neon Adidas soccer socks. There may be a lot wrong with the world today and any number of reasons to despair, but these are definitely not one of them. – AW
Best Way to Use Up Straggling CSA Veggies: Scrambled Eggs Of course, anything that involves an egg deserves a Dolly (maybe an Oscar? A Nobel?) in my book, but this has been my favorite lunch lately. I chop up whatever leafy green is on its last legs, sauté with a little onion or shallot, red pepper flakes, then scramble in an egg or two that’s been whisked with a little Parm. No one’s gonna complain if there’s a fresh chive or two snipped on top, either. It’s fast, light and, when washed down with an apricot or two, my idea of heaven. — JR
Best All-Purpose Summer Shoe for Kids: Salt-Water Sandals It’s been well established that I don’t have girly-girls. For the most part, I’m OK with this. OK, fine, I freaking love it. Unless we’re talking fifteen minutes before the graduation party or my parents’ 45th anniversary celebration or the fill-in-the-blank special occasion when they come downstairs wearing something fancy (i.e. anything that isn’t a soccer jersey) with their Nike Free-Runs. When I ever-so-diplomatically suggest trying on a pair of ballet flats at Marshall’s (“just for special occasions”) they make that sucking-a-lemon face. But I’m lucky in one regard — the only fancy shoe (i.e. anything that isn’t a sneaker) they’ll tolerate is a classic: Salt-Water Sandals, or “Salties” as they’re known. I love them because a) they come in every color of the rainbow b) they are not Nikes and c) they work for pretty much every occasion that doesn’t call for Nikes: parties, sightseeing, traveling, beach-going. As long as it’s summer, that is. Come fall, I’m back to square one. — JR (more…)