Category Archives: on the side

oven fries 2

Root.

(on grounding, stress relief, and being a still point in a turning world)

Two hours drive from here, out in the desert, about 1/4 mile off one of my favourite hiking trails there’s a small hole cut out of a hillside. I used to tuck myself away there on a daily basis, for what I’d consider to be therapy sessions. For someone so often stuck up in my head, I hurtle forwards at a pace that tries to outrun my thoughts, very much like that hare in that story where the tortoise emerges victorious. Buried in the earth, in my little therapy hole, everything slows down and something clicks open and my body starts to, well, for lack of better words, drink it in. It drinks in the earth and it drinks in the slowness and it drinks in the darkness and for the first time in a long time I feel calm. And if I stay there for long enough then I would feel like I’d been plugged into a recharger. Now that I live nowhere near that little hole, I try to forge that connection wherever I can. Its not impossible, even surrounded by concrete.

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fennel2

Essentially…

(a recipe for braised fennel yum and exploration of what it is we all do)

Often, while sitting at my little market stall, I am approached by people who want to know what a herb DOES.

People are always interested in the function of person, plant or object alike, because we want to know how best it can serve us. But when it comes to people and plants (because objects are often born with a job in mind, like, for example, a kettle, whose function, first and foremost, is to boil water. All other functions, say, to be beautiful and to match the curtains are secondary) I am loathe to start spouting off functions.

Of course, at a party it is really difficult to walk up to a person and say ‘who are you?’. Most likely you’ll be given a name and a job in response, which will leave you in the same place as if you asked ‘what do you do’. And quite honestly, the same thing happens with a plant. A question of ‘who are you’ to a plant will often be met with a use of some kind. For example, me asking a lovely desert lavender plant the other day was met with the image of a fevered man being fed a hot tea of desert lavender flowers. Is desert lavender (as if desert lavender was a person) a hot tea for fever? Among many other things. But if people and plants gave up all their secrets upon first meeting each other then what point would there be in developing relationships and getting to know each other?

Essence has to be worked for, and understood without words. I’d venture to say that the second you start to describe somebody with words, the essence is gone (try describing the person you love the most in a series of sentences and they just fall flat). And the same goes with plants. Reading a list of indications on a page will only give you so much information. To understand it, you have to dive in, get to know it. Taste it. Feel it. Let it become a part of you and flow from your pores. Only then do you start to understand what person or plant is made of. Only then do you start to understand how they fare in different situations and how there are some things they will do even if its not in their job description (maybe they’d only do it for you because you took the time to get to know them) and then some things that they do automatically because its in their very nature. Plants and people, as far as I see it, are very alike in this manner.

Fennel is one of those things- yes, it’s good for flatulence, and yes, it tastes delicious, but to say that it is these functions is to reduce it so a list of facts. Energetically, one would say that its warming, soothing, moistening. That it relaxes spasm and has a slight expectorant effect. That it excels in cough syrups and cramp formulas and can soothe a colicky belly and sore throat alike. But it’s more than that still. It has an affinity for the feminine- that moist, dark, retreating principle- and the seeds are a bit more expansive and action-oriented, though the whole thing is commonly used to increase milk production… The leaves, when munched on or tea-d with are sweet and soothing and can make most borderline disgusting formulas much more palatable. Also, according to Culpepper, tea made of the leaves, seeds and roots will ‘make people lean who are too fat’, but you didn’t hear it from me (I think this is because fennel will, in fact, make you feel sated even when you are not).

Unfortunately there’s very little way to convey it being more than that other than with a few chicken-scratches and possibly an interpretive dance with a big hug at the end. So let my little list and description be enough right now, until you go and cook some up for yourself (after which you’ll return to say ‘yes, yes, I understand completely, it can do all that and so much more, let’s make some chicken-scratches and interpretive dance together, to signify everything that it is and then go back to drinking our fennel tea, glad for its flatulence-dispersing and indigestion-soothing effect, but understanding that it is not (nor is anybody) its job description).


Braised fennelly goodness*

As many fennel bulbs as you have people

1 teaspoon fennel seeds per bulb

1/4 cup white wine/ champagne or leftover apple cider. The recipe is non-specific, just use whatever is lying around leftover from another meal.

Butter. 1 tb per fennel bulb.

Oil. Olive oil. White fir infused olive oil if you have it but a good slightly peppery one will do in case you don’t.

1/2 tsp salt.

A good crunch of pepper.

Dear readers, the first thing you should do with a bulb of fennel is to chop off the fronds with one swift and confident motion. The purpose of this is twofold: first, to show that you are not afraid of something strange, and second is to show your cutting board who is boss. Take the fronds, wrap the stalk-ends in a rubber band, then tie that rubber band up somewhere dry with a string. I like to keep my hanging herbs in plain view, partly because it looks slightly witchy and slightly like a French provincial cottage kitchen, but also because when I can see them, I will use them, whereas if they sit drying in a closet somewhere I will only remember after a year when they have gone brown and the fragrance has been lost to the surrounding bedsheets. You can do this with a few fennel bulbs, and you’ll be left with a big bunch of hanging plant matter, and a few bulbs lined up neatly on your cutting board.

And this is where it gets fun. My favourite thing to do with fennel involves a hot oven and a cast iron pan. Chop the bottom off the bulb, and then chop the fennel bulb swiftly in half down the middle, from bottom to nose. Lay each half flat, and then slice into quarter-inch pieces, which you can toss immediately into a cast-iron pan. Do this with all the bulbs until there are none left, then drizzle them with the olive oil, sprinkle over the fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Pour in the wine/champagne/cider, dot with butter, and put in a hot oven (preheated to 375) for about 30 minutes. When its done, you’ll know it, because your house will smell like sweet anise and green and cooked wine. And most likely somebody (perhaps you?) will be clawing at the oven in desperation. Remove from the oven, chop a few of those frond-pieces that you have hanging nearby and sprinkle them over the top. Serve in its pan, with a cool drink and a big chunk of fresh, warm bread.

*This is a technical name.

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Moroccan mallow salad

If I were to have a robot self, I would describe it something like this:

A satellite dish, with roots, and a nuclear reactor in the middle, plus two hands and a body with which to express the product of said reaction. And when it comes to writing, I feel like one has to have a satellite dish. If I’m not out there, wide open, taking in new stuff every day, then everything I create takes on a stagnancy that feels like a shrunken sweater. Like a record on repeat. During times when I don’t feel like going out into the world, I find that my creativity grinds to a halt too. It’s this strange balance of having to experience and give as much energy as possible in order to receive. To empty the vessel before it can be filled.

The past week I’ve been over tired, slightly grouchy, achy, fighting off this respiratory infection that’s been circulating around (and had hit everyone BUT me) and not really in the mood to go out and do anything. Even more than that, I’ll admit, I’m envious of all you folks who have a winter. Butter emailed me photos of her truck blanketed in snow and I felt a twinge of despair that we don’t really have that here. Last week it was eighty degrees, and while, come March I’ll be out hiking and  y’all snow-dwellers will be cursing me, right now, it’s Winter, and I want it to feel like it. Winter is the time to rest, relax, recharge, and curl up on the couch with hot chocolate and a good book, and when it’s 80 degrees and sunny, it really doesn’t feel like you’re supposed to be resting much.

LA is dry at the best of times. We’re on the edge between a big desert and a big salty ocean, and on my side of town it gets hot and dusty quite quickly. Respiratory infections that come around will lodge deep in the lungs but never really graduate past a dry splutter. We don’t get thick wet cold mucus here, we get green and yellow and bright eyes and red tongues and hard to hack up. Everything gets dried up. Like the cogs in my robot mechanics aren’t working properly. Last night I was staring forlornly at a blinking cursor on a blank screen, and then I made this sad little dry cough. I thought it was just a bit of dust or something but a minute later it happened again. And then another one. And then the sneezing started. And before I knew it, within the space of a couple of hours, I had graduated from grouchy and tired to sick.

To be honest, I was relieved. There’s nothing worse than being a creative robot and feeling like your cogs and mechanics aren’t working properly. To have hands that are supposed to be weaving and creating that just barely splutter to life and then die down. To be sick, after all the horrible terrible thoughts of it being gone forever (melodrama is my middle name) was a welcome relief. I’ll take achy coughy dried out stuck sinuses over gone forever any day.

When I first moved into this house, I did a few things that my neighbours found strange. The first was that I pulled out all the ornamental plants beside my kitchen door. The second was that I scattered the plot with seeds and forgot about it. The third was that, when the seeds started sprouting into weeds, I refused to do anything about it except eat them from time to time. One of the weeds that proliferates out back is hollyhock. Pretty big purple flowers in the summer, and pretty big leaves the rest of the year, you can’t pick plants in the mallow family without knowing immediately how they work in the body, because they’re slimy. Seriously slimy. They moisten things like nobody’s business, from dried out lungs to dried out intestines to burning urinary tracts. I went out last night, under the rising moon, and started picking mallow leaves, and as I did, I realised that they, too, have big satellite dishes that wave around in the night sky like they’re searching for transmission of some kind.

I thought about these big satellite leaves with their faces turned to the stars and I looked up to see this big moon rising into the sky. Funny, you know, that in such a yang-y city, here are these little plants with their faces turned up, soaking in the night and it occurred to me that this moment was as yin as it might get in LA. Yin of the darkness and contraction and moistness and death. Yin of the feminine figure and the earthy texture and the hand that gives life and the other hand that takes it. Yin of the stillness that gives birth to movement and the deep dark forests that have been there for thousands of years. In the middle of a city that is focused on youth and movement, and where (to mirror this) we don’t even have a proper winter (our plants don’t even get old- they just keep flowering and producing) I’ll take my yin moments as I can get them, especially when it’s sitting in the mud surrounded by big hollyhock leaves with the full moon shining down onto our big satellite dish faces. Smiles reflecting the sunlight, absorbing all that we can.

I bring in my haul of leaves and set about to making a dish I read about in Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco. If you’re ever going to get a Moroccan cookery book, let it be this one. The pictures alone will make you want to sell your children in exchange for plane tickets to Tangiers. The moistening effect of mallow plants is immediately noticeable. Within a few minutes of eating it everything feels looser, less painful and dried out. Within a few minutes of eating it, hot, achy restlessness is replaced by cool moon-struck rest. I had the same again for lunch today.

A note on this dish: it’s not attractive. You’ll have to pawn it off on people at first, insisting that they try it and then because of good manners they will feel forced to do so even though words like ‘weed’ and ‘wild’ might scare them a bit. But it’s ok because after that first bite they won’t be able to stop eating it and you will be happy.

A note on mallows: I don’t think you can find them in grocery stores, but come spring, you can find them in gardens and along roadsides. You can use hollyhock (alcea), or mallow (malva). They’re all used pretty much interchangeably in herbalism, so I don’t see why they’d be different in cooking.

Moroccan mallow salad

Adapted from The Food of Morocco

1lb wild greens

1 cup parsley

3 garlic cloves (peeled, but not chopped)

1/2 cup cilantro

1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp ground cumin

juice of 1 lemon

1 blender

Steam the greens, garlic, parsley and cilantro for ten minutes, until they’re definitely cooked but still bright green. Then, put them in the blender with the rest of the ingredients, and blend on high until they’re a thick green paste similar to the texture of ‘whipped potatoes’ as Paula says. Taste, add more salt if necessary. Refrigerate until cool and serve.

cheese polenta

Polenta

(a trip to San Francisco in which I cook for my brother and his roommates)

I drove up to San Francisco last week. I’d never actually been for more than a few hours, passing through, so I was excited to spend some time exploring. And luckily, there’s a Twitter-verse, in which you can do things like say ‘hey folks, where should I go in San Fran” and folks will reply with things like ‘Tartine, you fool!” or “Incanto” or “GO TO THE HEATH CERAMICS SALE” and you will do these things (except Incanto which was closed) and be grateful that you didn’t end up somewhere less than perfect…

It’s the perfect city for wandering. After I got home from yoga in the mornings (I was there to visit one of my favourite people who is teaching here until December), I’d set off on exploration adventures. I went to the Haight, and walked through the park (Golden Gate park is bigger than Central Park!), and explored the Sunset area, and went to little cafes, and had the best chocolate ice cream with smoked sea salt, and wandered around Bi-Rite grocery store wishing that all grocery stores in my area were like this (I mean it’s a canola-free establishment and they have a massive cheese collection. Hellooooo.), and went to Tartine 2 times even though there’s not actually a single thing I can eat on the menu (and the owner’s wife is gluten intolerant!)*.

I also drove over the Golden Gate bridge. Twice. And it’s huge, and orange, and very very exciting. I actually screamed and bounced up and down the entire drive over. The way back was less exciting, I didn’t bounce around as much, though I did squeal a couple of times… and on the other side of that big orange (not gold) bridge was the Heath Ceramics sale and my friend Gina (and her son Bennet who has the biggest bluest eyes I’ve ever seen). We drank hot chocolate and looked at pretty ceramics and I bought the most perfect coffee mugs which I swear make my coffee taste better just by the power of looks alone…

(Check out ma new coffee mug! And the cat and Ganesha, viciously guarding it…)

Later, I went for a walk in the park, and gathered some herbs along the way: redwood leaves, juniper leaves, lavender blossoms, black sage leaves. By the time I got back to Alex’s house, I had taught five hippies (who were trying to sell me pot) how to ID juniper, and had a pocket full of plant matter. I made this roast lamb recipe, using the herbs I’d gathered and a quarter bottle of rose that I found in their fridge (Alex, if you’re wondering where the wine went, you ate it on lamb). All atop some cheesy polenta.

I don’t know why people get freaked out about polenta. I’m a careless cook. I never use double boilers (I hate having extra things to clean), and get so distracted that I forget about things (sometimes the kitchen sink overflows and floods downstairs because I forget I’m filling it with water), and yet I can make polenta. Believe me, if I can do it, then you can too.

And I make a lot. Because having leftover cheesy polenta is a true joy. You can have it for breakfast with poached eggs on top. You can slice it into squares and stick it under the grill and make it go all crispy on the outside and cheesy-polenta-y in the middle. And you can have it by the spoonful out of the fridge, just like a savoury corn and cheese flavoured ice cream. Ok, nobody else really seems into the latter like I am…

By the way, can anybody tell me what the difference is between polenta and grits? I had grits for the first time when I was in Tulsa earlier this year, and it was just like polenta. What’s the difference?

(This looks lumpy because it is lumpy. That’s because it’s my ‘quickly reheat for breakfast’ version not the ‘fresh out the pot for dinner’ version. The latter is smoooth, promise.)

Cheesy polenta

serves 4

6 cups water

2 cups polenta

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 1/2 cups mixed cheeses (I used parmesan, fontina, asiago)

1 stick butter

 

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy bottomed pan. Throw in the polenta and stir until all clumps are gone. Turn down to a simmer, and simmer, stirring every 5-10 minutes, for 35 minutes**. If it gets too dry, add more water. For some reason sometimes it seems way thirstier than others… Then after 35 mins, taste for consistency and salt (you might need more). Are there hard grains still? Cook a bit longer. Is it all soft and lovely? Then remove from the heat, stir in the butter, cheese and pepper. You can make it in advance then heat it up later (just add a bit more water). Voila. Easy cheesy.

(Shoes, waiting patiently for feet.)

*Note, if you find yourself meeting someone there and can’t have gluten either, there are 3 options: 1. muesli which contains spelt but no wheat- it’s still gluten but depending on why you can’t eat it it might be ok. 2. A sandwich without the sandwich. Not available until 11am. 3. Go next door to Bi-Rite and get crackers and cheese and an apple.

** You might get a crust on the pan. It’s worth it to me to not have to stand over it constantly. For said crusty pan, I cannot recommend Barkeeper’s Helper enough. It’s one of those things that I won’t even look at the ingredients for because I can’t imagine how I’d live without it and seeing how toxic it all is would make me feel like I should give it up…


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Pickled Watermelon Rinds

I like watching people test for good watermelons, because it makes them look crazy. I know this, because I do it, and people look at me like I’m crazy. I learned the knocking technique from an Israeli woman who claimed to be the ‘queen of vegetables’, who would bustle around the grocery store, knocking on watermelons until she’d delightedly find the right one (about which she’d then shout across the store in her loudest voice, deafening those around her and embarrassing those who were with her).

I started doing it tentatively, and then enthusiastically, and now I end up teaching a couple of people how to do it each time.

It’s easy. All you do is put the watermelon to your ear, and knock on it like you’re knocking on somebody’s door. Knock like it’s a business meeting, not your sleeping neighbour. And listen for a dull throb, not a high pitched ding. The dullest throb you find is the watermelon for you. And then teach somebody else how to do it, because they’ll be looking at  you like you’re crazy. Conversely, you could just start replying to said watermelon, and you might clear a space for yourself in the line…

Pickled watermelon rinds have caught my curiosity for a couple of years, but I was always too lazy to make them. Then, when I was visiting Butter in Boulder, we went to The Pinyon- one of the restaurants she forages for, and on their {gorgeous} menu were pickled watermelon rinds. So we ordered them, and I ate the entire jar, and fell asleep thinking about them. Most recipes for pickled rinds use just the white part, but at The Pinyon, they leave some of the flesh attached. And I tell ya, I’ll never do it any other way- having that little bit of deliciousness is crazy good, and it means you don’t need to specifically find a watermelon with big white rinds.

They’re easy to make. Ridiculously easy. And delicious. Ridiculously delicious. Crisp, tart, sweet, wateremelony. Great served with a rare steak and a glass of wine. Great in a sandwich with chicken and arugula. Great on their own or with cheddar when you’re wandering aimlessly into the kitchen in the afternoon trying to figure out what to do next.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

1 large watermelon

2 cups cider vinegar

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

 

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the watermelon as best as you can. Cut it in half first (so it doesn’t roll all over the place) and go at it. For hard to peel parts you can use a paring knife, but try to use a peeler as much as possible so you get as much rind as possible.

Cut the half in half. Then, delicately, cut out the flesh, leaving about an inch of red flesh attached to the white rind. Then, slice the flesh-deprived quarters into 2-inch-wide strips. You’ll have a little triangle left over. Slice each of those strips into thin strips that are 2-inches long. I made all of mine about 2 milimeters wide, but you can go thinner than that if you prefer them less crunchy.

Now you have a pile of strips of watermelon rinds, stuff them into jars, however you want. You can be pretty about it or quick about it- I did some of both. The pretty ones have been given away, the quick ones are being devoured by the day…

Bring the water, cider and sugar to a boil. Remove from the heat, and start ladling the liquid into the jars filled with watermelon. The liquid must be boiling hot. Put the lids on- they should seal (if not, eat those ones first). Wait for them to cool, then refrigerate.

I’m sure you can pressure can these so that they’re shelf-stable but I figured we’d go through them all so fast it wasn’t entirely necessary. If giving them away as gifts, a little ‘please keep refrigerated’ label probably wouldn’t go amiss though.

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Tortilla Espanola

I forgot about how nice some things are at home.

Like clean sheets and a comfy bed that is so big you can stretch out in your sleep and still not know there’s someone else there. And like having a bathroom that you don’t share with a hundred other people in the marina. And good coffee.

Jamie and I jumped ship in Alicante. Gatablanca and I had a tearful goodbye. That is, I shed tears, and she sat there in the water looking beautiful as always. And just like that, it was over.

We drove West, into Andalucia. The second you cross the border from Valencia, the landscape changes. Becomes more wild, more beautiful. With craggy mountains and fields of olive trees. This was the last Moorish outpost in Spain. We stayed in a little hotel under the Alahambra, in the Alcaiceria- the old Arabic quarter. The streets are cobbled and narrow and lined with little cafes and markets selling Moroccan goods and Indian imports*.

And after a couple of days in Granada, we drove to Madrid to catch our flight home. By the way, if you have a choice, don’t rent a car and drive to Madrid. A 4 hour drive became a 7 hour drive due to the confusion of Spanish google maps directions, and streets that have 3 different names, and iphones running out of batteries, and Spanish road maps that don’t have freeway names on the freeways, and then a convergence of Catholic youth from all over the world upon central Madrid where the Pope (el Papa) was due to arrive by plane around the time ours was due to take off. As we taxied to the runway, the pilot came on the intercom to point out his plane, which had just landed**.

And then, just like that, we were home. I am not entirely sure how I feel about this. My consolation is that Gatablanca is right where we left her and will be there when I go back next year.

I’ll tell you more about the trip over the next couple of weeks or so- about the lonely tower cove that we found, and about the tres idiotas that we rescued. About the food we ate and the liqueurs we drank and the sunsets that we watched. But for now, I’m going to curl up on my couch with a blanket, a book and a mug of coffee, so a Tortilla Espanola recipe will have to do until then.

Tortilla is ubiquitous in Spain. Every time I’d visit dad I’d drag him to tapas bars and force him to eat them; I’m pretty sure that after I left he didn’t want to look at another egg for months. You can buy them pre-packaged in the grocery stores there, and they’re delicious, even though they’re pre-packaged. We had them for dinner almost every night on board, with salad and a plate of delicious jamon and bread and cheese. It’s perfect for having around in the fridge for snacking on. If people come over unannounced you can put it out and make it look like you’re the type of person who is used to having people over all the time because you’re prepared with fancy Spanish food. And if it’s too hot and you can’t be bothered cooking you can cut off a slice and eat it right there off the plate with the fridge door still open with no mess and no evidence except dirty fingers (which you can either lick off or wipe on a towel and voila- the perfect crime). And if it’s dinner time and you forgot to make anything then you can put it on a plate with a nice salad and make a glass of tinto de verano and in five minutes you have a Spanish meal. Quite impressive, si?

Tortilla Espanola

6 eggs

3 tb heavy cream

1 large onion, diced

1 large potato, peeled and diced

2 tb butter

3 tb olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Boil a big pot of water and throw the potatoes in. Boil for 8 minutes- until you can pierce them with a fork but they won’t quite drop off quickly. Strain.

Meanwhile, in a cast iron pan, heat the butter and oil, and sautee the onions for about ten minutes, until they start to brown slightly.

Add the potatoes, and then the seasonings. Cook for another couple of minutes, meanwhile beat together the eggs and cream. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and cook (don’t stir it) for a minute. Remove from heat and stick it in the oven. Cook for 15 minutes, until the centre is set.

If you have a broiler, then stick it under the broiler for a minute or so to brown the top. If not, it’s no bother. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate. You can eat it warm, but it’s really best after a couple of hours cooling. And it’ll last in the fridge for 3 days.

 

*I stopped to look at a skirt, balked at the price, and told the man that I could have bought that for 200 rupees. He shrugged, in typical Spanish fashion, and I stormed off in a huff.

**I’d have assumed that the Pope had a private jet but no, he flies on AlItalia. How the Swiss guardsmen get their funny hats and spears on board is beyond me.

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Dandelion and fennel= yum

Oh jeez. I’m sorry, I’ve been the worst blogger ever. I’ve been working my you-know-what off trying to launch a website (CSS and web design are WAY harder than they look!), and then I went to Korea with some friends, and only really got back yesterday.

Korea was amazing; I wish I’d had longer than a week there. I’d always had this strange attraction to it, and then this unexplainable love for Korean food (that for most people takes a few shots to get used to). My dad and I were discussing it one day and he told me that I was conceived there. And in our strange logic that completely explained why I love Korean food and why I have Asian alcohol syndrome (really, one drink and I’m blotchy and red and way too drunk for my Scottish roots). So I was super excited to finally go, and it was all thanks to my friend Soo. Soo moved to America from Seoul about a year before I did, and we ended up at the same high school. She went to university in San Diego and then moved back to Korea much to the dismay of all her friends. But it worked out for the best because she got married last week, and we all got to go and visit ;).

It was only a week, which wasn’t nearly enough time to actually see the city. We had a few amazing meals (including the best Korean barbecue meal of my life) and got to see some really cool markets and herb stalls, and then it was over!! A whirlwind trip, really. But it was worth it. Except for the man next to me on the flight out there who twitched in his sleep bringing his hand terrifyingly close to my face, it was worth it.

When I got back I was craving sleep, and craving food that wasn’t laden with MSG. So I went and stole dandelion leaves from my neighbour’s garden. I know, I’ve been lecturing everyone else about not stealing from peoples’ gardens, but dandelion leaves are different: nobody wants them (except us weird folk who like wild things) so I don’t think it’s such a big deal.

Fennels are growing wild everywhere in California right now. They’re getting a bit too big to harvest, but I’m getting my last few in, and then they’re available at farmers markets and supermarkets for months to come. The raisins add a pop of sweetness and the dandelion leaves balance it all out with that hit of tangy bitterness. Yummy for a side dish, or ust for lunch, if you’re me.

Dandyfennel yum

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

1 big fennel bulb, sliced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 small handful dandelion leaves, cut into 2 inch pieces

1 handful raisins

salt

pepper

1 tbsp chicken stock

1 tbsp white wine

1 tsp your favourite herb mix- I use my own personal ‘herbs de Californie’ blend, but you can use herbs de Provence, or even a collection of local things that catch your eye!

 

Heat the oil and butter on medium, add everything except the dandelion, and cook for around ten minutes, until the liquid is evaporated. Add the dandelion, wilt, and serve immediately.

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The loveliest sprout

I can’t believe I’m doing this to you. I mean, I hate sprouts. Really truly think they smell like socks and dirt and they make you fart to boot.

It’s all Jamie’s fault. We were getting our weekly shopping and he saw brussels sprouts and started jumping up and down with excitement. Anybody who gets that excited about something that most people hate really deserves to be given a chance, don’t you think?

Well it turns out that he has a special way of cooking them. Which means that it’s not his fault at all, it’s his step-dad’s fault. Gary, who taught Jamie how to work hard and to wash dishes and to cook brussels sprouts. Gary’s dish-washing technique, by the way, is one that Jamie has tried to teach me repeatedly. I am unteachable. I leave streaks on my dishes, and sometimes there’s still food there. This is because I learned to wash dishes from my dad, who was on a boat most of the time. Washing dishes on a boat is not about getting them as clean as possible, it’s about using as little water as possible, thus our cleaning routine went something like “run under water, rub with hand, turn off water and dry”. The look of horror on Jamie’s face when he first saw me doing this (granted, he’d been eating off my dishes for a while) was almost funny. Funny because I am pretty much forbidden to do the dishes in our house now. But not quite funny because I really had no idea I was doing it wrong in the first place.

So anyway, after hearing about Gary’s great dish-washing technique for so long (and never quite being able to master it; I think impatience plays a role here), Gary came to visit us for a couple of days. And he asked for a glass of water, and then I went to get it and there were no clean glasses. And with Gary standing right there I had to wash a glass.

Let me tell you, I actually broke a sweat. I mean, here was Gary who knows how to wash dishes so well that he actually has a technique, and me who knows how to wash dishes so badly that she’s not allowed to do them very often, and Gary wants to drink out of a glass that I will be washing. My hands were shaking as I tried to remember the fold-cloth-over-lip-and-press-hard thing. He didn’t look horrified. Good sign. Then he actually accepted water and drank it. Double good sign. I think he probably wondered why this weird girl was shaking while doing dishes.

I was chatting to my friend Mark last week when he mentioned that he was force fed brussels sprouts as a kid. He hates them so much that BS to him does not mean bull poo. Nope, it means brussels sprouts. I thought this kind of funny. My hatred really didn’t run that deep, I just found them kinda pongy. But I have been converted. And it’s not just me. My 13 year old sister who HATES anything cabbagey, who told me dubiously that she’d try it but only because she’ll try anything once, actually loved it so much that she made it herself the next day. Yes, I converted a teenager to brussels sprouts land. If that’s not enough to convince you then you’re obviously too hard a sell.

Sprouts, the good way

1 lb brussels sprouts

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

2 tb butter

2 tb olive oil

 

Slice the brussels sprouts into thin strips, about 1/8″ wide. Get a skillet nice and hot, then reduce to medium, add the oil and butter, and throw in the sprouts. Sprinkle over the salt and pepper, and then let them sit there for about 2 minutes. With a spatula, start to move them around a little– they should be golden brown in places. Then let them sit another minute or so. Then move them around again. They should be browning in some places, and bright green in others. After about 5 minutes total, remove from heat and serve.

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Maple roasted rhubarb

This week, on ‘Ridiculously easy and therefore dangerous desserts’, is one of my favourites. In Southern California, where our seasons are beyond comprehension to the layperson, rhubarb appears in the spring and fall, but only for a few weeks in each. I don’t know if it’s the same where you are. When it’s available, my favourite little restaurant makes this strawberry-rhubarb tart that is completely worth feeling a bit sick and getting s swollen face, every single time. In fact, I would sell a part of my soul for that tart, no joke. One day I’ll get the recipe, and I’ll post it here, and then you will offer me a part of your soul because you’ll be so grateful. I will benevolently refuse because you need your soul. But I will accept payment in the form of massages, hugs and nice things said about me behind my back.

I was itching for something sweet tonight, but not something that would make me feel yukky. Usually anything that involves flour and copious amounts of sugar fall into the latter category, so flour and sugar were both out. But with 5 lbs of rhubarb in the fridge, and a creative spirit, I set my lazy you-kn0w-what to work.

This took me, no joke, three minutes. I think scrubbing the dish I roasted it in will take the longest out of the whole process. If you want to save even more time, then line the roasting pan with tin-foil. I would have done that if we hadn’t been out…

Maple Roasted Rhubarb

serves 4

3 lb rhubarb

6 tb butter

1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375.

Chop the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Place in a roasting dish. Chop the butter into 8 or so pieces and drop over the rhubarb. Then pour on the maple syrup. Place in the oven, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes or so. Serve in bowls with some raw cream.

Shared with Fight Back Friday @ Food Renegade