Basque Cheesecake

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There’s a reason this space has been quiet for nearly two months. At the end of May, the Frenchman and I are getting married. It’s going to be an awesome party, but because I’m a nutso micromanager, I’ve taken on the brunt of the planning myself. In an effort to personalize the occasion, I also ended up creating extra work for us: together, the Frenchman and I self-designed every bit of stationary. (Who knew that weddings require so.much.stationary?) We built a website. Eleven months ago, I bottled vanilla beans into two cases of vodka, the results of which will soon become wedding favors in the form of extract, vanilla sugar, and vanilla bath salts.

This is all to say that, although I’ve loved the process of planning this wedding, it’s also been majorly time consuming. It’s been a pleasure, but sometimes it feels as if planning this wedding has become my second full time job. This is all to say that, while I have boatloads of ideas swirling around my mind grapes, half-recipes or ingredient lists I’ve jotted down and vow to return to, the fruition of these ideas may have to wait until May 31st.

I’m still cooking, but lately this has taken on a quieter form–simple, healthful dinners to fortify the Frenchman and me against the cold. Often, the seeds of one night’s dinner sprout from whatever I have left in the fridge from the last night’s dinner. On and on it goes.

I love and value this space, but I also think it’s time for a change. In the past, I’ve been very strict with myself about the structure of a post, and adamant about only posting original recipes. However, I don’t think this model is sustainable for me in the long run. Even after the wedding, the Frenchman and I both work full time, and we still have plenty of adventures on the horizon. Plus, there are so many stellar recipes I’ve grown to love which aren’t mine. I want the option to share smaller, not limiting myself to a big project every time I hit publish. I hope this is ok with you.

In the meantime, there’s a winter trevisano salad with toasted hazelnuts, parsley, cara cara oranges, hot honey, and pecorino cheese that’s burning a hole in my pocket. I send you all warm, knee sock, hot chocolate kind of wishes.

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New Years in San Sebastián

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A Drinking Song

  • Wine comes in at the mouth
  • And love comes in at the eye;
  • That’s all we shall know for truth
  • Before we grow old and die.
  • I lift the glass to my mouth,
  • I look at you, and I sigh.

W.B. Yeats

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Christmas in Lanzarote

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We spend Christmas, my fifth with the Frenchman’s family, in Lanzarote–the easternmost island in the Canary chain. I eat the best pulpo of my life. I’ve developed a tan.

The island is largely covered by volcanic rock, remnants of an eruption as recent as 1730. In December, the sun shines bright and warm, but the constant, insistent wind carries a chill, and sometimes it’s necessary to change from a bathing suit into many layers in a matter of minutes. The island is stippled with cacti and aloe plants. There are palm trees too; not the willow-trunked variety–these are low, compacted trunks, as if hunkered down again the wind. For days at a time, a film of sand blown in from the Sahara blankets the sky–calima, it’s called–and hazes the atmosphere. Driving in the car, past villages, each building white-washed, low, and square, each door and shutter painted the same, gem olive green–we pass unusual vineyards: vines winding through volcanic gravel, each plant protected from the wind by semi-circles of black rock.

I’ve passed the time here uncharacteristically disconnected from all my electronic devices. Meals with the Frenchman’s family are communal events, and we play games after dinner, or walk along the water. I’ll have a small glass of wine with lunch. My French and Spanish is all jumbled together now, and I have to pay attention not to weave both languages into sentences. I’m grateful for this trip–it’s been restful in a way I forgot was possible. For once, my mind isn’t running one hundred miles per minute. I give myself over to books for hours at a time, and writing isn’t just another item in a long list of to-dos. I have time to let the words roll around, time for them to percolate. It’s a joy.

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A Winter Salad of Fennel, Celery Root, Lemon, and Pecorino

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I have never met a group more reliable to have a good meal with–and it should be said, a few drinks with–than poets…Poets tend to love the details, the process of food, the languid hours of a good meal–meaning not just the vittles but the talk, often loud, that accompanies it.

This may also be because the best poems, like the best meals, are made from scratch. Both rely on the seasons, but also human history; both also consist of tradition, on knowledge passed down either from books or from generation to generation, hand to mouth. In poetry, there are few shortcuts, but there are secrets. Food and poetry each insist that we put our own twists and ingredients in the mix: we make each dish, like a good poem, our own. With any luck, the result is both surprising and satisfying, exactly what we wanted, perhaps without even knowing it.

However, we know well the ways in which our society has abandoned good food, and too often poetry entirely–as if it grows without water and light, and that our neglect won’t reveal itself. “Can one be inspired by rows of prepared canned meals?” asked Alice B. Toklas, who knew her way around both poetry & a kitchen. “Never. One must get nearer to creation to be able to create, even in the kitchen.”

A Winter Salad of Fennel, Celery Root, Lemon, and Pecorino ingredients A Winter Salad of Fennel, Celery Root, Lemon, and Pecorino prep

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Whole Wheat-Kitchen Sink Tart

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This is the longest absence, by a long shot, I’ve taken from this blog since its inception more than three years ago. It’s been a struggle, to put into words exactly why I needed a break. I still have no solid reason. Nothing happened. It was just a persistent feeling: the need to sit peacefully for a minute, to take time away from constant, frenetic connection.

It’s been a season of sea change. I am re-learning how to focus on what’s actually, concretely important, instead of attempting 100% all the time, running myself into the ground in the process. I’m rejiggering my expectations: drinking a cup of tea and staring out the window doesn’t have to be a lazy act; often it is restorative and necessary. I put so much pressure on myself, both in this space and in life, and it’s only served to make me bone tired. Constant activity, trying to please everyone—it’s simply not sustainable.

I’m working to figure out what I want. I’d like to come out the other side a more joyful person. Like anything worth doing, progress is slow, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m no longer swimming under water.

I don’t have any Thanksgiving material this year (but oh boy, did I ever last year. Check it out here, here, and here), but here’s a small summary of things-that-make-me-happy lately:

The woman across the restaurant in the big hat, who smacks her lips unembarrassedly and pronounces her wine “delicious.” Serial. Sandy Kenyon’s movie minute. The apartment-filling smell of caramelized onions. Walking along the Manhattan bridge alone on a brisk November Sunday, listening to a book on tape. Sauce, copious sauce, in almost any variety. The port-in-a-storm quality of the international foods section in the otherwise hectic Bed, Bath, & Beyond on 6th avenue. The earth-sweet-pungent smell of Concord grapes at the market. Homemade hot chocolate. Sitting alone at the kitchen table, licking oozing goat cheese slowly off a dull knife. Pulling a slim volume of Mary Oliver poems off the shelf and carrying it to bed.

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A Road Trip To Maine

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In and around Labor Day, the Frenchman and I finagled six days off for a road trip to Maine. We passed long car hours listening to Radiolab, and then long nature-hours playing B for Botticelli (or, B for Butter and Jelly, as we call it). We filled our days with the rush of dark trees. We considered the secret depths of lakes. Mostly though, we stepped outside our normal routine, and paid attention to the quiet.

We also explored many charming port towns, and drank our share of local beer. And we ate well, of course, we ate well.

If you’re planning a trip to Maine, I hope this day-to-day guide–and the subsequent extra recommendations–will prove useful. We loved our time there, and hope to make it back soon.

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* I will mention as a disclaimer: I was only in Maine for six days; I’m sure I missed so many gems. I only included the spots I really loved and would recommend without reservation. This is as much a record for myself as it is a guide for others. If you live in Maine, I’d love to hear your opinions about my finds (or better yet, what I didn’t find) in the comments. This is where I went and what I saw in August 2014; if you find a broken link sometime in the future, I apologize. Finally, thank you to the many generous people who made recommendations for our trip.

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Peach and Blueberry Coconut Crisp + a Giveaway!

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Until a couple months ago, I was living in the gymnastics dark, unaware I could participate in this–frankly, awesome–sport as an adult. (Thanks, Amelia!) And now that I know, I’m eager to make up for lost time.

I was competitive as a child, although my average skills never quite matched my intense love for the sport. I went to gymnastics camp and met Dominique Moceanu, though, and favored a burgundy crush velvet leotard and matching hair scrunchie–legitimizing qualifications if ever you heard them. And then I went away to school, and transitioned into flinging myself off of 1 and 3-meter diving boards instead. Later, in college, after a beverage or two, I liked to throw messy back walkovers on whatever surface was available to me: grass, or sometimes, hotel hallways. I am still a frequent handstand-and-cartwheeler in the sand, because life is short.

That brings us to the present. I have attended four classes now, and joy is the simplest way to describe it. Just walking into the gym–the primary colored mats and barrels, the expanse of trampolines, the foam pit–seems to dissipate stress.

My body is remembering front extension rolls (a series of which left me feeling terribly motion sick after my first class), back bends, kick overs, headstands, and almost back handsprings. Week to week, tangible improvements. I’m sore the next day (who knew the body contained so many distinct muscles?), but still I want to practice handstands against our apartment door: “You need to be looong,” instructs Rodrigo, pulling out the word to match his arms stretched high above his head. “Practice being looong.” So I do.

I’m not a naturally gifted athlete, and I would rather shop for tomatoes than go on a hike, but for some reason this gymnastics business has become a highlight of my week. It quiets all the overwhelmed, busy thoughts in my head.

Last week, we front flipped. With each turn, I stared down the alley of floor in front of me and in that suspended moment, nothing mattered except the anticipation alive in my fingertips. With each turn, I slid into a long-strided run, just before the mat pike-punching hard to launch my body upward with everything I had. It’s an act of faith, really. A hard tuck, willing mind and body to follow in a neat circle through the air, hoping that–this time–I’ll land on my feet.

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Arugula Pistou + Kinderhook Farm

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I live in the city, a fact I’m acutely aware of from the moment I wake up (to the sonorous pounding of multiple high-rise constructions) to my subway hop home (look! a host of sparrows eating….an old piece of pizza?) There are many things I love about my neighborhood of Brooklyn (this, this, and this, to name a few), but the urban reality also means that whole months go by when I forget what silence sounds like. I forget that the sky is really a wild, open, spangled thing, and not always doled out in tetris patches.

This push and pull is noisiest in late summer, when the city’s muggy and farmers’ markets are ripe with peaches. I get restless. By August, weekends become little islands of opportunity. And so for two years now, we reserve the first weekend of August for Kinderhook Farm.

This year we traveled to Ghent, New York with friends, and the most stressful thing I did all weekend was lose a game of Scrabble. Otherwise, we made power-relaxation our raison d’être. I cooked quite a lot: spaghetti with melted tomatoes, corn, and mozzarella I hope to share with you here soon. Grilled pizzas and corn on the cob. Cheeseburgers made with ground beef sourced from the farm. And s’mores, the Frenchman’s first.

It was such a pleasure. Two days of concentrated time with friends is a gift. And nothing makes me happier, absolutely nothing, than cooking with and for those I love. It’s an easy, immediate joy.

I also love the place itself, for its restorative properties. I love how Kinderhook contrasts my everyday life, and the feel of the barn’s wooden planks against my feet, almost warm. I love the fire pit and the technicolor chickens pecking wherever they please. Keys are obsolete. We wander the pastures and lounge in hammocks pitched at the edge of the yard. We buy local beer by the growler. The only noises are nature-made: bleating sheep, violining crickets, the rustle of wind through leaves. If you’re a light sleeper, roosters announce the new day. It’s tonic for the spirit.

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