Skip to content

Posts from the ‘mains’ Category

soba noodles with garlicky greens and toasted walnuts (san francisco part 1)

Friday

5:20 p.m.

We pull up to the MacArthur BART station in Oakland just as the sun begins to set. My parents and I have driven up to visit my sister in Berkeley for the weekend, but this first evening I’m headed into the city to stay with my best friend Anastasia in her Bernal Heights apartment. The station is under a freeway overpass and crowded with commuters; drums echo angrily from an invisible street performer. My parents eye the scene warily and my mother leans over to zip up my coat—I remind them pointedly that I lived in New York for four years but still feel like a scolded teenager.

Half an hour later I step off the train onto 24th street in the Mission district. There are murals and a McDonalds, the air alive with machismo and more drums (this time upended plastic buckets). I cross the street to avoid lingering hesitantly on the corner and feel the primal thrill of a city after months on the farm and quiet Shepard Mesa.

Stas shares an apartment with an artist in her fifties, and immediately I love it: colorful canvases lounge against walls, books cascade over chairs and shelves, glass jars of beans and grains line the kitchen counters. I examine a beautiful Picasso sketch that hangs over a cluttered shelf. Es maravilloso, Stas whispers, reverting to the fluent Spanish she retained from our high school years.

I start chopping cabbage while she prepares a dinner of sautéed greens, walnuts, and soba noodles, along with a salad seasoned with rice vinegar and sesame seeds. At 8:30 her housemate Annice picks us up for a nearby concert, and we drive down dark, industrial streets that would be hard-pressed to look less inhabited. Suddenly, there it is—a glowing slice of a building with scruffy-haired hipsters and a woman holding a french horn huddled round an outdoor fire pit. A mosaic of art covers the walls inside and soon after we arrive a thin, older man picks up a guitar and starts to sing. His plaintive voice moves between song and spoken word and we sit mermaid-style on the carpet, listening as girls (and boys) in a variety of leggings and artfully sagging boots traipse over us back and forth to the bathroom.

Saturday

11:00 a.m.

After a long walk and a longer wait we are seated at Plow, a popular brunch joint in Potrero Hill frequented by an embracing pair of muscled Abercrombie models and three separate tables of women in yoga attire indulging in their post-workout gorge. I nibble a bit of everyone’s meal before turning to my own, dipping bites of almond and lemon-ricotta pancakes into runny egg yolk. The pancakes are so tasty I end the meal with only slight menu-envy for the smoky sauce and cilantro kick of Stas’ breakfast choice.

It is both torture and a blessing in disguise that we arrive at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market unable to stomach another bite. The day is bright and breezy with a definite nip in the air—apart from that, it could be the middle of summer. People walk by with bags of oranges and plates of chilaquiles, and grannies of the traditional and tattooed variety root through baskets of radishes and boxes of loose greens. Inside the Ferry Building a barrage of wonderful smells warns you of approaching products before you see them: coffee from Blue Bottle, cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, bread from Acme Bakery. We buy South African Pinotage from one vendor and I stand in line for apple cider sorbet made bitingly spicy with cloves.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good museum or a nice hike. But if you’re starting to suspect that 90% of my travel plans revolve around food, well… stay tuned.

 

Soba Noodles with Garlic, Walnuts and Sauteed greens

My best friend Stas is a musician, soon-to-be yoga teacher and creator of such delights as chocolate beet cake and avocado pudding–in other words, she is California incarnate. She is also an admirable enemy of food waste: I once watched her eat a bottom-of-the-backpack banana bruised beyond recognition (a tale my entire family enjoys telling with gusto). My version of the lovely dinner she made for us is so simple that I’ve eaten it with relish every day for lunch this week.

1 package buckwheat soba noodles

two cloves garlic, sliced

several handfuls dark greens–kale (Toscano and Red Russian work well), rapini, chard or spinach

liberal splash rice vinegar

walnuts

sunflower seeds

red pepper flakes

olive oil and salt

Salt a pot of water and set it on the stove to boil. Heat oil in a saucepan and add sliced garlic, stirring for a minute or so until fragrant but not brown. Roughly chop greens and add to the pan with the rice vinegar, cooking until slightly wilted but still green and robust.

Drop a serving or two of soba noodles into the boiling water. Cook until chewy (overcooking results in a gluey mass), drain, and rinse immediately under cold water. Toast walnuts in a small pan until warm and crunchy (add sunflower seeds as well if you desire). Serve noodles in a bowl with greens spooned on top, and garnish with nuts, red pepper flakes, and a splash of olive oil and additional rice vinegar to taste.

butternut squash with cauliflower and crispy edamame

Recently, in what felt like a return to my English lecture days, I was asked to write on what makes a compelling character in a book or movie. So often in novels or films we see protagonists accomplishing death-defying feats, I began, they are heroes in the face of mediocrity, extraordinary beings in an ordinary world. The authors I love are those who acknowledge that the reverse is truer to human experience: we are ordinary characters in an extraordinary world. The characters whose lives I fall into with abandon are those who make spaghetti, drink beer, and buy pantyhose at the drugstore while things of utter strangeness go on around them.

I’ve long been a fan of authors who don’t flinch from providing mundane detail. My childhood heroine Nancy Drew couldn’t so much as climb into her blue roadster without a description of her pastel-colored outfit, an authorial move both entirely unnecessary and thoroughly enjoyable. The characters in the novels of one of my current favorites, Haruki Murakami, might be in the throes of mind-altering mysteries, but they go about their lives in much the same way I do: there is lots of opening the refrigerator and boiling water for pasta, many Friday nights spent in bed reading a book.

We tend to go about our daily activities on autopilot, and recently I realized just how powerful our neurological cruise control is when I read David Eagleman’s fascinating book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. Once we learn to chop vegetables or spin lettuce for a salad, there’s no need to focus on it—the activity is seared into the brain’s wiring, and in fact it’s often impossible to describe exactly how we wield the knife the way we do. But just because we can cook and eat without focusing on what goes into our mouths, does that mean we should? Jeff Gordinier’s compelling article in the New York Times yesterday on mindful eating offers a glimpse into a world where each bite is carefully savored, a practice that doesn’t come naturally to our efficient brains.

The concept of mindful eating appeals to me for the same reason that ordinary, spaghetti-making characters do: there is something deeply meditative about daily moments spent preparing and eating food. Cooking reminds us that life has a rhythm, that no matter how exciting or dull things become we pause several times each day and eat. These times can be rushed affairs, scarfing down a banana on the fly, and sometimes they have to be. But they can also be moments of unhurried reflection, of ordinary, everyday delight that lends itself more to happiness than heroic victory does.

Butternut Squash with Cauliflower and Crispy Edamame

The key to this simple and satisfying dish is roasting until the edamame are browned and crunchy–they add wonderful texture to the sweet, soft squash and crispy florets of cauliflower.

1 medium butternut squash

1 head of cauliflower

1 cup frozen edamame

sweet Moroccan paprika

olive oil

salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel butternut and cut into cubes; spread on a baking sheet with frozen edamame. Cut cauliflower into bite-size chunks and add to the sheet, then sprinkle vegetables with sweet paprika, salt and pepper. Use your hands to coat veggies well with olive oil, then slide into the oven to cook for 30-40 minutes, or until butternut is fully roasted and edamame are browned and crispy.

crunchy garden spring rolls with pickled carrots

I’m not generally the type to make friends in transit. I don’t quite go the full sunglasses-and-headphones route, but I usually board the subway or plane with a book and a non-committal smile at the ready for anyone who edges towards small talk.

So it was with little expectation that I surveyed my seatmate on the train this weekend, a small, gray-haired Vietnamese woman with a white bucket hat and her feet tucked under her. We read—me, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and she a book in Vietnamese—I worked on a few crossword puzzles, and she quietly readjusted her hat and feet. Then, just as we pulled into Los Angeles and an overhead voice made the tragic announcement that corn dogs were no longer available for purchase in the dining car, she turned to me and asked about my cell phone plan.

How the conversation turned from that to grilling vegetables I don’t know, but fifteen minutes later I was gesturing enthusiastically as I tossed imaginary florets of cauliflower in olive oil and slid them into the oven. Olive oil? At 400 degrees? She nodded earnestly and assured me she would try it, confessing she’d been looking for a new way to do vegetables and had never tried roasting them in the oven. In return she shared with me the merits of oxtail, multiple uses for fish sauce, and where to buy spices for a perfect pot of Pho while I frantically scribbled notes on a scrap of paper. As we neared her stop she reached into her bag and pulled out a crusty roll with cucumber, thinly sliced meats, daikon radish and pickled carrots: a homemade Banh Mi. Breaking it in half she offered me the larger portion, and we munched happily while she extracted a thin strand of carrot and told me the method she used to pickle it. As I helped her off the train after a quick hug I was reminded that even friendships that last less than 30 minutes can yield memorable moments–and memorable recipes.

Crunchy Garden Spring Rolls with Pickled Carrots and Peanut Dipping Sauce

These are the easiest–and tastiest–snacks to make, especially if you have lots of veggies on hand. The only tricky part can be finding the rice paper wrappers, but they are widely available at local Asian groceries and some large markets like Whole Foods (the same goes for the slightly more ubiquitous fish sauce and sriracha). Please feel free to play around and add more types of vegetables than I suggest.

For pickled carrots:

2 large carrots

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup honey

Slice carrots into thin strips and set aside in a shallow bowl. Add water, vinegar, and honey to a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then pour over carrots until they are completely submerged. Soak overnight before sealing and storing in your refrigerator.

For spring rolls:

1 packet Vietnamese rice paper wrappers (round or square)

1 cucumber

1 avocado

2 carrots, pickled (see above)

lettuce leaves

cilantro

Slice cucumber, avocado, and any other veggies you plan to use into thin strips. Tear lettuce leaves in half and cilantro into small sprigs, and arrange all veggies (including pickled carrots) so they are close at hand.

Pour hot (not quite boiling) water into a shallow dish, and dip a sheet of rice paper in the water until soft and pliable. Lay rice paper on a dry surface and arrange lettuce, carrots, avocado, cilantro and other veggies in the center. Roll tightly while tucking in the edges, then cut diagonally in half and serve.

For spicy peanut sauce:

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup peanut butter

sriracha hot sauce

Combine the first four ingredients until smooth. At this point, it’s all about taste: more salty? Add fish sauce. More sweet? More honey. More tangy? Bring out the rice vinegar. Adjust with peanut butter for desired thickness, and finally add sriracha for spice.

roasted cauliflower with almonds, raisins and capers

I’m a list-maker by nature, and the end of the year brings with it unlimited list-making opportunities: books read, restaurants visited, James Bond movies watched in a single week (thank you instant Netflix!). The most rewarding list, however, is always my “year in recipes.” Nothing reminds me more vividly of the distinct settings of my year–New York, Columbia, home, the farm–than the things I cooked and ate, and each of the following recipes was a genuine favorite, made multiple times and either shared or joyfully hoarded. I hope that you enjoy this selection, and that it reminds you of the recipes and meals that make up your own.

Guilt-free cookies with coconut, banana, ground almonds and dark chocolate.

Spicy spaghetti with fennel, lemon, pancetta and parsley.

— A goat cheese tart with Greek yogurt, honey, berries and oats.

Orzo salad with feta, lemon, broccoli, asparagus, and sprouts.

— Baked brunch oatmeal with bananas, berries, vanilla and almonds.

— Hearty meatballs with breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley and egg.

— A refreshing ice cream with cream cheese and handfuls of fresh mint.

— A perfect bread pudding with toasted bread, vanilla, raisins and pecans.

— And lastly, a personal favorite from our Christmas Day lunch:

Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds, Raisins and Capers

1 large (or 2-3 small) heads of cauliflower

olive oil

large handful almonds, chopped

1/2 cup raisins, red or golden

1/4 cup capers

salt and pepper

red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop the cauliflower heads into florets, then toss in a bowl with several glugs of olive oil. Add the chopped almonds, raisins, capers and salt and pepper to taste, and continue to toss until everything is nicely mixed and coated with oil. Spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with pepper flakes, then roast in the oven until the almonds are toasted and the florets begin to brown, tossing occasionally. Serve as a side, warm or cool.

a very fine roast chicken

On Monday, we killed a chicken.

I suppose slaughtered would be the correct term, but let me back up a bit. Here on the farm we have around 75 chickens, the majority of which are mature, egg-laying birds that share the pasture with our goats. The smaller coop down by the garden is reserved for the youngsters—chicks left over from chicken-keeping classes that are raised in isolation until they are big enough to join their peers without getting picked on. Another reason for keeping the babies separate? You may order hens, but it takes several months to determine whether one of your fluffy girls is actually a boy.

A few weeks ago, we began to suspect. Nascent crows could occasionally be heard from the small coop, and one of the birds had the beginnings of long, arched tail feathers and a comb. Up at the cottage we’d often talked about slaughtering an animal, a practice that few carnivores do today but that defines a farmer’s relationship with his meat. When it became clear that our suspect was in fact a rooster, we approached Cynthia and Daniel and received the go-ahead.

On Monday afternoon we assembled, the five of us (plus one lucky prospective apprentice) hushed with concentrated activity. Everyone had some sort of preparation for the event: Ross killed a duck in culinary school, Christine witnessed the slaughter of a cow, Adam heard stories of his Mamaw’s neck-twisting techniques, and Phillip watched youtube videos and sharpened his machete. I, on the other hand, have fainted not just at the sight of blood, but at the thought of it (end result: a concussion and trip to the emergency room, driven by my friend with the bleeding finger). I was not prepared, but I was determined to watch.

Well, watch behind a camera. Of course this meant that if I passed out the camera would be going down with me, but that was strong incentive to remain standing. And when it actually happened, I was shocked at how unassuming it all was—there was no struggle, no squawking, no horror-movie cascade of squirting blood. It wasn’t cruel, and it wasn’t overly sentimental. I suppose when you know what you’re doing, killing a farm animal for its meat can be a part of life.

But for eating an animal to be ritual, you have to eat all of it. So last night that’s what we did, piece by piece: from the heart (Ross: “I’m a man now!”) to the wings, neck, and deliciously tender breast. When the night was over there was only a carcass left, and with Thanksgiving coming up, we’re starting to eye the wild turkeys as they amble down the drive.

%d bloggers like this: