My Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer Meal

A line from a song keeps running in my head - "Don't let this fading summer pass you by."

Hello, old friends, I'm back to blogging this month! There are so many recipes I've made that I haven't posted, and while I'm going to Iceland in just THREE (!) days, I still haven't even written about Vermont yet. But, I'm back. Back to a messy kitchen and a flour-covered camera. Back to cakes, back to breads. I'm trying my hand at savory more, as you've probably seen the last 3 recipes on here. 

I needed the time away. Sometimes I get gripped by the inextricable need to be a quitter, a runaway. I don't think it's a fault of mine, but it makes it hard to stick around long enough to see something blossom into success. I get bored. I get discouraged. I burn out. This summer, my priorities shifted a bit since we're back in Pennsylvania at our own house now. I'm doing more with Nolan's family, like weddings, showers, and christenings. I'm busier with housework, farm work, and my full-time job. So I didn't document what I ate as much lately. I haven't really been active on instagram. I haven't let the fading summer pass me by just yet.

With so many weekends away and trips to plan, we've been making more meals that are thrown together, roasted or sauteed for flavor, and all in one pan. The below is no different. In fact, it's the best kind of cookery that I enjoy the most. Easy, comforting, quick to keep the kitchen cool when it's muggy outside. In just weeks it will be cool and I'll want to have the oven on all the time. But for now, with the windows open and a breeze rustling the hair the nape of Elsa's neck, nothing is better than a quick meal so I have more time for connecting with the home I built and love so much.

Quick (and adaptable!) Cannellini Dinner!

cannellini dinner

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices of bacon, roughly chopped
  • 15-20 green beans
  • 2 cups kale, chopped with stems removed
  • 2 cans 16 oz cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon of each for me!)
  • 1 or 2 hardboiled eggs
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, add bacon and begin to cook
  2. When browned and crisp around the edges, add your green beans and begin to cook down
  3. As the green beans cook, they will crisp around the tips and turn a vibrant green, turn heat to medium-low
  4. Next, add your kale and allow to wilt
  5. Add cannellini beans and stir constantly to warm
  6. Finally, add your garlic, salt and pepper
  7. Transfer to a bowl, add your egg and a squeeze of lemon and enjoy!

Note: You can really use any vegetables or meat for this, just follow the basic recipe to mix it up however you want!

cannellini dinner
cannellini dinner
cannellini dinner
cannellini dinner

Avoiding the Red Cliche

Most things come easily to me, things you wouldn't expect from a boy with no discernible talent.  Things like baseball, calculus, forgiveness never came easy to me, but love did.  Love in the carnal sense, love in the fictional sense.  Love in the sense of letting go, love in the sense of finding yourself.  Love in the sense of that ever-present gnaw at the pit of your stomach that registers in the mind as I am responsible for someone else's happiness. Love has come easily to me since birth.  I love my mother in an almost manic sense, an almost Oedipal obsession with my desire to make her smile.  In kindergarten, I kissed a girl named Alex's hand when she reached out to grab a colored pencil, I thought I was gentlemanly and adult of me.  Years of expansive love bloomed in me as I began to daydream of boyfriends and how exotic the word fiancé sounded, with it's accented e and promise of a future with someone else.  With each boyfriend, there was a breakup, and with each breakup, there was some promise of next time, next time, next time.  I found Nolan during one of those next times.  During my return to Italy, when we were both a little bruised, both a little cut up and the vinegar kisses of a stranger felt like when soap gets in a hangnail.  But, underneath all of that, once we stripped down and opened up, there was love.

It was raw and passionate, it left me heady in the perfumed 10x8 dorm room where the heat was on and a blizzard blew through Pittsburgh one night in January.

It was lazy, falling asleep with a bucket of chicken during XLV.

It was chaotic in the sense of never having an ending, never knowing the dates of anything important, throwing shoes and his grandmother's dishes when I got too angry and forgot to say, "I'm sorry."

But I was never sorry, never sorry for loving someone so ferociously and tender.  I'd lick the wounds I had created and then blame the rust-taste in my wolf mouth on his laziness, his determination to let our love fade away.  It was raw and passionate, it was lazy and chaotic.  And somehow love became this little succulent, never needing watered, collecting dust on the windowsill, timid in its approach to life.  Our love had a geophyte approach to sustainability, fatty and tuberous, holding onto any love that existed when life got barren and dry. When it got hard to come by, when it couldn't be found in the moonlight nor with a dowsing rod, broken off from a backyard apple tree when the Santa Anas made us unbearable to one another.

Since I left for Texas, we fell in love again--hard and fast, when the bones were most brittle.  An apologetic love where conversations often ended in "How did it get like this?"  We are finding our way back to the frenzied love of when I was 19, and slowly those sour wounds heal when they're exposed to air.  I wanted to celebrate this love for Valentine's Day and forget all the other four years and the bullshit we put one another through. I wanted to celebrate this love in boxes, small tins of love that overpowered Nolan for Valentine's Day.  I wanted to remind him what home could feel like.  I wanted to remind him what love could feel like, because our house in San Diego was big by San Diego standards, and it could creak too loud when you're lonely.  I made him dinner, cakes and bread, and shipped it to him to have for Valentine's Day with a movie, so it felt like a date tonight.

I love you.

The menu for Nolan's Valentine's dinner

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Pasta out to dry

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Chocolate Cake with a Marzipan Heart

A chocolate cake with a marzipan heart

Bacon Salt and Popcorn

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homemade candy bars

Homemade Candy Bars

Homemade candy bars

Homemade Candy Bars

“He shall never know I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made out of, his and mine are the same.”

 


Roasted Beet Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 2 large-sized beets
  • 3 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
  • 6+ cups flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450
  2. While oven is preheating, peel beets and wrap in foil, place on baking tray.  When oven is ready, roast for 40 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, unwrapping so steam can release
  4. Cut into large chunks.
  5. In a large food processor (6 cups or more), throw in beets, eggs and yolk, olive oil, and salt (and optional zest).  Puree until smooth
  6. In a stand mixer, combine puree and three cups of flour using the paddle attachment.  When dough begins to form, switch to dough hook and continue to mix, adding in last three cups of flour, one at a time, until a proper dough forms
  7. Remove from bowl onto a floured work surface (i prefer marble for pasta-making) and knead for 7 minutes or until is elastic
  8. Keeping dough floured, cut into eighths and lay plastic wrap on sections you are not going to use.
  9. Use your pasta machine's directions for thick noodles, and dry.
  10. Enjoy with a vinaigrette and parmesan!

Bacon Salt

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 strips of bacon
  • 1/2 cup sea salt (preferably a larger crystal)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

  1. Fry bacon on a skillet until extra-crispy
  2. Put on a plate lined with paper towels and allow to cool, blotting excess grease
  3. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until combined.  Do not over-pulse, as it can result in fats in bacon to liquify.
  4. Enjoy over popcorn, with potatoes, or be creative!

Handcrafted Candy Bars

There is no real recipe for a basic candy bar.  I used some of my mother's recipes, which use more specialized chocolate and techniques, but the instructions I have below can be practiced even with chocolate chips. From here, you can personalize them and make them your own, even including honeys, spices, herbs, salts, and even homemade nut butters!  But, I would start here for an intro into confectionery.

Before you begin, use a ratio of 3 oz per candy bar, so you have some room for leeway with sticking to the bowl, the mold, and your spatula.  From here, you can cut and halve, mix chocolates together and multiply easily.  I particularly like mixing white chocolate and a milkier, lighter chocolate.  When you have decided how you would like to flavor your chocolate, measure out how much you will need.  Then, take away about 30% of that amount and set aside (this will be your "seed chocolate", a step for this pseudo-tempering.  It is necessary so your chocolate doesn't turn grey when cooled).

Prepare any mold you may be using.  I always use a light olive oil cooking spray and then wipe off the excess with a paper towel.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine your remaining chocolates and microwave on HIGH for 20 seconds.  Take out and stir.  Put back in for another 20 seconds and repeat this process until all chocolate is silky smooth and easy to stir.

Add remaining chocolate and continue to stir.  The heat from the melted chocolate should melt remaining chocolate.

Add any add-ins and pour into mold and smooth out with a rubber spatula.  Allow to cool for at least half an hour in the fridge before unmolding.  Package however you want (I went a little far with homemade packaging I designed and printed on special paper, but basic foil will do). Store in a cool place, or the fridge.

Other recipes used: For the cake (marzipan inspiration here)/  For the hot chocolate mix /  For the marshmallows / For the bread.

Where I Was From.

I believe in second chances and the inevitable twentieth. I believe the proverbial inch has always been the mile. I believe in exhausting those chances and believe in finding reasons to renew them. I don’t believe in falling in love, but I believe in sticking it all out until you can’t stick it out no more. You have to find a way to reinvent yourself and I have been reinvented over and over these last few months. I’ve been unemployed, a salesperson, and an administrative manager. I’ve been really shitty to myself, really shitty to others, and at times negligent of everything. Bills and housework, dogs and boyfriends. All my relationships kind of crumple when I don’t tend to them, they end up like flowers in the kitchen windowsill—swollen and hot, then brittle to the touch. But I’ve learned to brush the dust off my hands and work harder at the goals I have. And that is the Protestant work ethic. My reward will come from work, not by the grace of your God or mine, not by the outstretched hand of a friend or an acquaintance.

That work ethic has run deep and has presented itself in unlikely ways. It’s intravenous and liminal, static and electric. It’s down in my gut when I’m guilty of sitting on the couch too long and painstakingly obvious when I fall asleep with another To-Do list in the works. It will all make me a better person, every last drop of sweat. Every last missed opportunity. Every last night in and early mornings and missed vacation. It will all pay off, because you gain pride from the aceticism of owing someone else so much, too guilty to ever give yourself too much credit, buy yourself too many clothes, put a little back in your own bank account for that proverbial rainy day fund that disappears before that rain every dried up.

When everything is communal, you start to lay claims. And I thank whatever God that’s been bred into my consciousness that I can still hold onto that.   And I owe it to my roots, the kinds that haven’t taken hold. The kinds that are telephonic and casual, the kind I can pick up or ignore at will. The kind that still live in Pennsylvania, Indiana. North Carolina and West Virginia.   The kinds that inspired within me to be truthful of my intentions in this world and truthful to the person I’ve become.

My mother has arthritis at 43, deep in her clavicle. She said it came from working “hard jobs”. She’s been a janitor and a candy-maker, she worked in a deep-freeze at a Wal-Mart distribution center in eastern Kentucky once. She comes from a German stock; we’re all flat-boned and broad limbed. My dad never had to go to war, but he served our country just the same. My aunt has worked at the same factory for 15 years. My uncle drives trucks for a living and my sister makes coffee for truck drivers off an interstate near Maryland. They’re hard folk who eat hearty. They’re heavy folk who eat light in the summer until dusk and then they feed heavy. Meat and potatoes, biscuits and gravy. Dough fried in reserved bacon grease, informal dinners around the TV.

All this I recognized from my trip to North Carolina, all this I recognized in myself. And I can’t deny it any longer how my Midwestern values took root somewhere in my soul, and I can’t deny the satisfaction of having people like me exist in different circumstances that I could never see myself in. When everything is communal, I lay claims to my family and my pride in being from the salt of the earth.

And, in doing so, I have become so inspired by the every day. The roadside produce stands and the chainlink fence. The rope-tied dog that howls at the open moon and the crawdads you never knew could be eaten. The marriage of eating-this-because-we-have-a-coupon and eating-this-because-my-mother-made-it-this-way. Seeing beauty in that. Or how there are town-wide parades to celebrate the anniversary of my uncle who died in Afghanistan. Seeing beauty in the years of the hardworking middle-class that gave me my bone structure and reaping the benefits of those farmers and military men to move to California and willingly quit law school to find myself the hard way and know what it’s like to be really, truly poor for the first time ever and learning to cook because of necessity and not as a hobby.

The Protestant work ethic. The marriage of Southern tradition and Midwestern values. The sense of accomplishment at not losing my mind and finding a place in my family in June. It was all so holy to me. I didn’t know it was going to mean so much to me, but it was a pilgrimage, a Hajj, a Junrei of self-acceptance vis a vis familial acceptance. Where I was from, where I am going. Who I am. These are no longer existential cries of understanding, they are part of my here and now.

And in celebration of that knowledge, I cooked. I cooked with love, with honor and tradition. With understanding that these would be hearty ingredients, that the cast iron was necessary and not accessory. That the fatty dairy would have been pure, like how my grandmother Ruth would have made it straight from the cow (how maybe I would have, too, if my grandfather hadn’t sold the farm in the 70’s). I made this meal to honor every composite of myself. And it’s simple: meat, potatoes, and pie.

Steak and Buttermilk-Herbed Potatoes

This is a casual meal, thrown together without discretion for any kind of culinary know-how.  Love it for what it is, for where it came from.

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Ingredients:

        For the Steak:

  • 2 rib steaks, 6-10 oz
  • Olive oil
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Garam masala
  • Paprika
  • Garlic salt
  • 2 TB Butter, softened

For the potatoes

  • 6-8 small to medium russet potatoes, sliced as thin as you can (do this before beginning cooking the meat.  If need be, place in cold water to keep)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 4 TB butter, melted
  • 1 TS salt
  • 1 1/2 - 2 TB Herbs de provence
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Directions for Steak:

  1. Completely thaw steak until malleable and soft, completely sandwich between paper towels and pat dry
  2. Brush with olive oil and rub in softened butter (the butter will give flavor, the olive oil will help to sear) and set aside, making sure to not wipe off the butter and oil.
  3. Use two separate plates for the rub.  On the first, pour the spices.  I would say I used 1 1/2 TS - 1 TB per spice (be cognizant of the flavors, for obvious reasons.  I used less salt, but knew the steak--and my tastebuds--could hold up to a more seasoned and spicy meat with garam masala and cayenne pepper).  Combine with a fork.
  4. Place oiled and buttered meats into spice plate and rub completely around.  Place on reserved plate.
  5. Heat skillet (definitely prefer cast-iron here, but make sure you have some ventilation for it).  Use additional oil and butter until the pan starts to smoke a little to enhance the sear of the meat.
  6. Put meat on skillet and let it sizzle.  As a general rule, do not touch meat until it voluntarily allows itself to be pulled from the metal.  Let it sear and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Check readiness.  Flip for additional 3-5 minutes, depending on how done you like your meat.
  7. Reserve steak grease for use. Wrap in aluminum foil and let sit while you prepare the potatoes.

Directions for potatoes:

  1. Place potatoes in bowl (dry them off as much as possible so the herbs and butter can stick).
  2. Melt butter in small saucepan or microwave, pour over potatoes along with buttermilk
  3. Add salt, garlic, and herbs
  4. In the same skillet you cooked the steaks, add additional oil or butter and heat back up.  Does not have to smoke-to-sear here.
  5. Pour potatoes in and stir constantly until all edges are crisp and inside is softened.  Some will be burnt and blackened, some will be soft and baked.
  6. Allow to cool for a minute.  Plate with steak.  (Additionally, enjoy these with a little cheese while still hot, if desired).
  7. Enjoy!

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Buttermilk-lemon Pie

And finally, for you, I have a buttermilk-lemon pie that truly invoked my newfound love of the South.  So pretty, so simple.  So versatile.  And did I mention pretty?

Ingredients:

  • A good quality store-bought pie crust (okay, okay, I cheated here a little)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 TB raw organic sugar (not super-fine, but you want crystals) or brown sugar
  • 1 TS instant espresso

Directions:

  1. Prepare 9-inch pie crust per your own recipe or the package directions
  2. Mix all ingredients (save the organic sugar and espresso) until well-combined.  It will be pale yellow and delicious.  ((I mixed all of mine in a Pyrex liquid measuring cup for ease)
  3. Pour into prepared pie shell
  4. In a small bowl, mix organic sugar or brown sugar and espresso with a until well combined.  With a spoon, gently shake and pour sugar until covering pie.  Use more if not enough (I eyeballed)
  5. Bake for 45-50 minutes until cracking and caramelized on top.
  6. Allow to cool in fridge for about 30 minutes for best consistency for slicing and taste.

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