Roast Eggplant with Mixed Rice and Yogurt

I know we’re teetering on the edge of eggplant’s departure from the market, but I’ve been tinkering with this recipe for a while, and I wanted to get it right before it landed here.

The non-aubergine portion was lifted from a French-Tunisian family friend, who made it for the Frenchman and me when she came to stay. (She served it with herb-rubbed, falling-off-the-bone chicken thighs. You can too.) It was a luxury to be cooked for, and to be taken care of so well through food. Pine nuts browned sumptuously in butter! The lemon-tinged warmth of sumac and za’atar! Cumin, harissa, and cinnamon, too. It’s actually a perfect inauguration to fall.

I asked for the recipe, and scribbled down the offhand recounting of a cook who has fashioned a dish so often, measurements are not longer consciously considered. I searched google for corroboration of spice quantities, and rice to meat ratios, but quickly realized no consensus: this dish is made, in various forms, across the Levant. Sometimes with lamb, or beef, or chicken. Often it includes peas and carrots, and other spices; almonds too. This rice and meat mixture–helpfully called “mixed rice”–is used judiciously in recipes across the region, frequently to stuff vegetables, wine or cabbage leaves.

What this recipe is not: the quintessential version of Ouzi, which anyway goes by other names and spelling variations. What it is: very tasty. A recipe filtered through this cook’s interpretation of a French-Tunisian-living-in-Cairo’s version of her Palestinian mother-in-law’s cooking, made with ingredients she found in my kitchen, in Jersey City, NJ. That sentence was exhausting, but the point is: make this for someone you care about.

(This dish is equally good, if not better, on the second or third day after cooking.)

garlic, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin

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Summer Fruit and Vanilla Ice Cream Floats

raspberries diced peaches

Summer Fruit and Vanilla Ice Cream Floatssummer fruit

diced peaches with sugar diced peaches with sugar

I’ve written a thousand words to explain why–aside from a holiday gift guide–I haven’t shown up here for a year. I try to describe what the past two years have been; I rearrange the words and delete them. I wanted to have clean answers for you. I wanted to write: this is what happened; this is how I resolved it, full stop. I can’t, though. I’m still in the trenches of it. I’ve only reached the point where I feel a tug to make things again. It’s thin.

I got sick. I got the kind of sick that’s nebulous. The kind where you say, “I’m sleeping twenty hours a day, and I’ve gained forty pounds in six months,” and the doctor sends you to a dietician. Twice. The kind where every test reveals more irregularities. Finally you are prescribed medication by an endocrinologist, and it makes a small dent. And so you dive deep into Eastern remedies, but they mostly don’t work either. You spend a mess of time and money and time and money throwing your hopes and tenacity into the next thing and the next thing. You keep trudging. People have opinions about how you are not trying correctly, and you want to throw something against a wall. You relinquish gluten and dairy and sugar and alcohol. Your elbows are less dry than before, but otherwise you lose not one ounce. It feels like a weight has taken residence on your chest. You think, “am I going crazy?” In the new year, you summon the energy to begin cardio dance classes taught by amazonian former rockettes. By accident, you realize that it’s possible to move the needle by degrees, but only if you relax. And so you practice not being the type A freak you are, even though every moment is very difficult. You keep practicing. Nothing is resolved how you’d like it to be and the days are long and the years are short.

It starts to feel better to create things again than the fear and exhaustion and disingenuousness that prevented you from doing so the year before. You are reminded by a friend that hiding from writing won’t make reality untrue. You remember Flannery O’Connor who said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” And Joan Didion who mirrored, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Writing about this thing though feels insurmountable, and so you start small, in the second person, with a recipe containing essentially three ingredients.

Maybe you are not meant to mention such things on a food blog? I don’t know. I’ve never been a particularly successful food blogger. I don’t know who will read these words. I do know I’ve felt enormously alone these past two years. I know invisible things have wreaked havoc on my mind and body, and that my feelings surrounding that fact have gone largely unanswered.

In a post about frilly ice cream floats, I’m sharing a sliver of the story, a little for me, and a little for you; if you need it. I’m trying to figure my way out of the woods. If you are too: I believe you. You are not alone.

cherries with sugar gif

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Holiday Gift Guide 2016

The Roaming Kitchen | Holiday Gift Guide 2016

1. Carafe with Walnut Stop | 1 liter. Perfect for serving water at dinner, or for guests to take to bed.

2. Herringbone Salt Cellar | Also makes a handsome plant pot.

3. Mortar & Pestle | Lovely to look at, but also deep, and thus practical.

4. Glacier Porcelain Tea Cup | Hand painted navy blue, peach, 14k gold.

5. Countryman Pitcher | Sturdy and beautiful, at home as a vase or water pitcher.

6. Boxwood & Myrtle Half Wreath | Festive, but also easy to hang on a single nail or door handle.

The Roaming Kitchen | Holiday Gift Guide 2016

1. Frog Hollow Fruit Subscription | The zenith of California fruit, once per month.

2. Sudden Coffee | Carefully sourced, fancy-pants instant coffee.

3. Cinnamon Hill | The freshest cinnamon out there.

4. Christine Ferber Jam | They don’t call her the “jam fairy” for nothing.

5. Other Brother Shorty | Extra virgin olive oil from California, one of my favorite finishing oils.

6. Love Nuts Gift Tower | Compartés makes the tastiest candied nuts, period.

The Roaming Kitchen | Holiday Gift Guide 2016

1. Meat Grinder\Sausage Stuffer | Power of a professional, but sleek enough for the counter.

2. The Flavor Thesaurus | Endless flavor pairing suggestions for the curious cook.

3. Ravioli Press | Make 2-inch ravioli at home.

4. DIY Greek Yogurt Kit | Thick homemade yogurt, sweet or savory.

5. Short Stack | Stellar single ingredient cookbooks, volume 24 and counting.

6. Slow Food USA | For those who support food that is “good, clean and fair.”

The Roaming Kitchen | Holiday Gift Guide 2016

1. Food52 Marble Board | Food and photography friendly at a reasonable price.

2. Pink Sherbet Ceramic Espresso Cup | Handmade from earthenware clay.

3. Simple Storage Containers | Hawkins NY makes even the lowliest grain counter-worthy.

4. Wood-Handled Dish Rack | A minimalist, design-forward dish rack that’s also easy to clean.

5. Brass Easel + Calendar | Simple, pretty, stylish.

6. Ball 1.5 Pint Wide Mouth Canning Jars | Ideal smoothie/overnight oat/lunch/float container.

The Roaming Kitchen | Holiday Gift Guide 2016

1. GIR Ultimate Spatula | I have this in three sizes; it’s the best spatula there is.

2. Opinel Le Petit Chef Set | For the mini chef in your life.

3. Oak 10-in-1 Bar Tool | A bar cart’s worth of tools in one.

4. Strawberry Ombre Cotton Napkin | Classy, comes in a million colors, disposable.

5. Plat Wide Tote | Where have these bags been all my catering, pot lucking life?

6. 8-Cup Coffee Brewer | Looks great out, makes fantastic coffee that stays hot.

The Roaming Kitchen | Holiday Gift Guide 2016

1. Artichoke Print | Real gold or silver foil.

2. French Fry Art | Among other food illustrations.

3. Coffee Pot Cookie Cutters | A source for alternative cookie cutters.

4. 12″ x 18″ Black Letter Board Set, 290 Pieces | Like magnetic poetry, but better.

5. The Cognac Advent Calendar | Or, choose from various other whiskies and boozes.

6. Enamel Pin | Ice cream makes me happy, in all forms. Read more »

Melon-Mint Cooler

Melon-Mint Cooler Melon-Mint Cooler Melon-Mint CoolerMelon-Mint Cooler

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

–Mary Oliver

Melon-Mint Cooler Melon-Mint Cooler

Melon-Mint Cooler

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Four Days (Mostly Food) on Île d’Oléron

Île d’Oléron is an island set–at its narrowest–5 kilometers off the western coast of France; the wilder cousin of comparatively posh Île de . The island was once inhabited by pirates who hung lamps around the necks of donkeys at night, in hopes of tricking returning ships into wrecking along a shore that ebbs dramatically with the tide.

At the Frenchman’s paternal grandparents’ home–or, more accurately, a series of small homes for renting, each named with flowered tiles brought home from Pays Basque along with wheels of brebis and black cherry jam–there is no food processor. In fact, aside from stacks upon stacks of dish detritus–and one surprisingly versatile pair of scissors–there’s not much to aid in the cooking of a birthday lunch for nine. (I can’t locate a pen, until my father-in-law pulls one from another room.) I have the good sense to bring my own sharp knife.

I meander the garden with my camera, spotting tiny flowers and many fruit trees–the fruit still in its infancy at the start of July–but also raspberry bushes offering a handful of miniature, sweet-tart fruit. The soil here is so nutrient rich, it’s often mixed with sand. We find potatoes, green beans and apricots. In August, there will be hazelnuts, figs, peaches, prune plums, pears and apples.

At dusk, while my mother-in-law fries ceteaux in a pan of oil, I mix chocolate cake and marinate chicken with handmade mayonnaise, vinegar and herbs. We sip her punch–lime, simple syrup, rum–while we work. For dinner we eat fish rilletes from Pêcheries De la Cotinière, alongside langoustines boiled with bay and garlic, and steamed local potatoes. (In the fridge, we’ve stocked away fifty oysters I’ll grill the next day, and tuna I’ll kebab, and dress in herb oil.)

By 11pm, dinner is over, and I’m hand chopping basil, parsley, arugula, garlic, and chives into near paste for pistou, as the boys watch the Euro Cup match across the kitchen, hollering. Chopping parsley is a contemplative act–even with the occasional chant of, “GiroudGiroudGiroud!” in the background; it’s only when I finish I realize my back is gently throbbing from standing over the low kitchen table for so long.

The morning comes, along with more family. We swim in the freezing ocean, bike as a chatting horde through narrow streets lined with white stone houses, pastel blue shutters, and spindly hollyhock stems flagged with pink, red, purple, and white flowers. Even though the cooking has not gone perfectly, the party is a success in every way that matters: we grill and eat and drink and sing songs and play the accordion and the violin and laugh. People go back for seconds. I decide to make more space for this in my regular, workaday life–“joy is not a crumb.”

Four Food-Filled Days on Île d'Oléron Four Food-Filled Days on Île d'Oléron

Four Food-Filled Days on Île d'Oléron

Four Food-Filled Days on Île d'Oléron Four Food-Filled Days on Île d'Oléron

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Fourth of July Cake in France

Forth of July Cake in France| The Roaming KitchenForth of July Cake in France| The Roaming Kitchen

DSC_5648 DSC_5651

For the past five years, this American has spent her Fourth of Julys in France. The Frenchman and I made our annual pilgrimage yesterday, a trip that aligns with three family birthdays. I write from the cool, sun dappled stone of the patio, under a new arbor, just half woven with fanning grape leaves. The boys are walloping a ball back and forth in the pool, their splashes and yells overlaying a backdrop of bird chirpings. Read more »

Strawberry-Negroni Popsicles

Strawberry-Negroni Popsicles | The Roaming Kitchen

Strawberry-Negroni Popsicles | The Roaming KitchenStrawberry-Negroni Popsicles | The Roaming Kitchen

Strawberry-Negroni Popsicles | The Roaming Kitchen

It’s popsicle week, Billy of Wit & Vinegar‘s annual internet pop party. Here is my bright and juicy contribution. I’m keeping it as simple as that for today: it’s hot, make all the popsicles.

This weekend, the Frenchman and I drove to my parents’ house for Father’s Day: I baked, and cooked and cooked and baked. On Friday, we fly to France for nearly two weeks with the Frenchman’s family.

I’m stressed and tired and harried, which is, in itself, uninteresting, and also not appropriate fodder for an internet blog post about flip-in-the-lake refreshing popsicles, so instead I present you with one of my favorite poems, written by my favorite poet. I’ve read it so many times it’s essentially memorized. I hope it brings you too pleasure on this June Monday. Read more »

Edge of Summer White Bean + Lentil Salad

parsley multi-colored cherry tomatoes

Edge of Summer White Bean + Lentil Salad

This salad comes together in ten minutes–so you can reasonably make it before or after work–and is really satisfying. I’ve eaten it every night this week. I often bring it to work for lunch; it’d be equally great for a picnic.

The order of ingredients allows what needs to marinate to marinate while you prep the next ingredient, so don’t feel as if you need to create a mise en place before you start this recipe. Prep, pour, and stir the ingredients in order; by the time everything is in the bowl, the salad will have melded.

Serve with fresh, crackling bread to mop up the vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl, or over rice. Use as a vegetarian/vegan taco filling. Or, make ahead and spoon onto crostini for an easy hors d’oeuvre.

Additions/Substitutions: You can add chopped nuts to this salad, like toasted walnuts or crushed pistachios. Or, pepitas. Add cheese: shaved pecorino, cubed mozzarella, diced-and-pan cooked halloumi, fresh goat cheese. Add extra protein in the form of poached chicken or tofu. If you’ve been gifted a fancy oil–I have walnut and butternut squash in my pantry currently–swap it for the olive oil. Read more »