Last Wednesday was a glorious day. The temperature reached close to 60 degrees, allowing for the enormous piles of snow to start melting. I took Maki for a longer walk than we’ve been doing these last few months. I spent most of the walk looking up at the sky and just breathing in the warm air. My spirits were immediately lifted. The world felt brighter, full of so many possibilities. And the normal stresses of the day didn’t seem to bother me as much.
Of course, as I write this, we’re clearing out more snow. Boston has officially broken its record for the most snowfall. Clap. Clap. Clap. Ok, now are we done with this winter weather? It’s time to move on to spring.
The fact that I was craving salad at all was a sign that warmer days are approaching; days when we won’t resort to bowls of soup and stew for our weeknight meal but, rather, something refreshing and healthy. A couple weeks back, I chowed down on a Burmese avocado salad at a local Chinatown restaurant. It was creamy but light and totally satisfying. I took inspiration from those characteristics as I developed this recipe, which is at once sweet, spicy, and savory. I went back and forth as to whether I should pickle the kumquats and, in the end, decided it wasn’t necessary. Those thin slices bring the dish to life, the citrus notes cutting through the bite of the watercress.
This salad hits all the right notes. As I sat in our dining room on that beautiful day, the plate before me and a fork in my hand, the dog sunbathing outside on our porch, I was just totally happy. I look forward to more days like that; ideally with the windows open, allowing a breeze scented with blooming trees to pass through the house. That will be nice. Soon. Soon.
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Cocktails aren’t traditionally served at a Passover Seder. Often, there is wine. But because any grain or corn-based spirits are kitniyot (the hebrew word for the category of foods that are not allowed to be consumed during Passover), mixed drinks aren’t typically served. In looking ahead to the holiday, I thought a libation using fortified wines, such as sherry and vermouth, would be nice for those wanting to mix up a little after-work drink.
I sipped my first cobbler just a few weeks ago at one of our favorite bars and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. The idea is simple: muddled citrus (typically orange), some sugar, liquor and garnished with seasonal fruit (citrus and berries) and mint. Sherry and vermouth are often a bit thicker in consistency and so a bit of soda water will help cut it.
After describing this drink to my mom, she pointed out that sometimes people include orange on their Seder plates. I had never heard of this before. Why orange? What symbolism does that have?
Here’s what I learned from a quick search online: In the 1980s, Dr. Susannah Heschel, a Jewish feminist scholar, was visiting Oberlin College. It was there that she witnessed students adding bread crust to their Seder plates as a way of showing their support of feminists and gays and lesbians, who they felt were excluded from Judaism. Heschel suggested that because bread is kitniyot, that they replace it with an orange slice (“I chose an orange because it suggests the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.”). The tradition has continued, but now is used to represent any groups that may feel marginalized.
Sometimes a recipe isn’t just a recipe. Sometimes there’s something symbolic about an ingredient or dish that resonates with people. I certainly wasn’t expecting this cobbler to have such significance, but it’s nice to think there’s more to it than just a way to get people a little intoxicated.
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Decorating our little house has been a bit of a process. It had a lot of charm to start, but we knew that there were a few changes we’d want to make. Mainly, the wallpaper throughout. It had to go. It wasn’t offensive in any way. In fact, it was all very sweet, including the pineapples covering our entryway and hallway. Cute… but it had to go.
When we first moved in, we had the living room and dining room painted. The living room paper turned out to be a bit of a challenge. When the painter tried to remove chunks of the wallpaper, the plaster started to come down with it. In the end, we had to have quarter inch wallboard put up throughout the room.
We were expecting the hallway to pose a similar challenge, but, thankfully, it was smooth sailing. As soon as I walked through the front door, I was elated. It didn’t feel like we were coming into someone else’s home. It was our home. Of course, there’s still work to do. We have to decorate these newly painted walls. The process never seems to end.
While we had this work done, Eric and I spent a few days at my in-laws’ house. I had some time to do a little cooking and came up with a few dishes to share here. The beet dip was one… these soba noodles was the other. We always have a few packages in our cabinet and they make for a wonderful weeknight meal. I find broccoli, especially when charred a bit, to have a wonderful sweetness to it. Mixed with the shiitakes and the bright dressing, there are a lot of bold flavors going on in this bowl.
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There was a palpable energy on Friday night as we headed into the city for dinner. I suspect it’s because most people, like Eric and I, have been stuck inside for the last month. It was cold… brutally cold. So cold that it was dangerous to be outside for more than ten minutes. But that didn’t stop folks from going out. Boston businesses have been suffering, so seeing packed bars and restaurants was a nice sight.
This was a very social weekend for the two of us. There was dinner and drinks on Friday. On Saturday, we were invited over to our neighbors for “‘ninis and ‘tinis” (that’s panini and martinis). I got inspired to make some potato chips for the occasion, along with a bowl of cucumber salad. Six hours later and more than a few martinis in and we were all feeling pretty good.
Sunday was equally enjoyable (and, thankfully, warmer than it’s been recently). We prepared brunch for some friends and then had more over to watch the Academy Awards. I put together a spread of baked brie, beet dip, and a large pot of wild rice and mushroom soup. We sat and ate and drank and laughed and said snarky things during the show. Is there anything better?
Going back to this beet dip. It’s an Ottolenghi creation and, therefore, it’s perfect. I first had it at a holiday party a few years back and have been anxious to make it ever since. And, so, now I have. Twice. In two days. It was that good. Minor adjustments have been made because, well, I’m not sure how many folks have za’atar in their spice cabinet. Of course, you can play around with this recipe as much as you’d like. The pepper certainly gives it some nice kick, but a little more couldn’t hurt. I also can’t get enough of the color. It’s striking and really brightens up a table. Just be aware that it’ll stain anything it touches, so keep it away from carpets and couches… and small children who might be likely to get it all over the place.
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Another fifteen inches of snow fell on our neighborhood over the weekend. We spent most of Saturday preparing for this latest storm, clearing out the driveway as much as possible so that we’d have a place to shovel the new pile. Thankfully, it didn’t start until later in the evening. But by the time we awoke on Sunday, the mounds surrounding our house had grown. After some breakfast and a few hours of reading newspapers, Eric suited up for some shoveling. I offered to help, but he said he was ok with taking care of it. As this was the first Sunday I wasn’t working in over a month, I didn’t argue with him.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t helpful. I did what I could, getting some laundry and cooking done. Eric had talked about making a goat stew, the task of which soon became mine to take on. I’ve never cooked goat, but I had a feeling it needed a couple of hours of simmering time. As someone who doesn’t consume much meat and prepares it even less frequently, I feel a great deal of pride when a dish comes out tasting the way it’s supposed to. And as good as it tasted, it smelled equally delightful. How wonderful it’ll be when he walks through the door and can take in these wonderful aromas.
As for my dinner, I had already planned on putting together a batch of seafood stew. Before the weekend, I’d stocked up on an assortment of fish and other sea creatures. This is my new obsession. Getting a little of a number of ingredients and throwing them into a pot. This time it was a combination of squid, shrimp, littleneck clams, bay scallops and salmon. After a long day of shoveling, I poured us a glass of wine and ladled our his and his stews into our respective bowls. We threw a couple blankets on top of our laps and curled up on the couch. It wasn’t an official Valentine’s Day celebration, but it certainly was a nice reminder of the life we’ve built for ourselves and the little (and not so little things) we do for one another.
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