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.)
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.
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 »
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 »
I met Stef Ferrari at ice cream college. She sat one row ahead of me in the giant conference room that served as our lecture classroom. On the first day, she was eating candy for breakfast. At our mid-morning break, she joined me in line for an ice cream sundae. Her bright red hair made her easy to spot. At afternoon break, she told me how good the chocolate milk was.
As ridiculous as this sounds, I liken my experience in ice cream academy to a short stint in the military–the hours were long, the information was overwhelming in quantity and complexity, and it was January in Eastern Pennsylvania. These are conditions under which you bond rather quickly.
I soon learned that we both lived in Brooklyn, and by the spring, Stef would open her own ice cream shop in the neighborhood next to mine. The shop, named Hay Rosie for her mother, is now shuttered, but I spent that summer visiting more times than was reasonable or healthy. Read more »
I turned thirty at the end of January. I meant to throw a birthday party/housewarming at our new place on the 23rd, but alas, Jonas! So, we rescheduled for the 30th.
I salvaged what I could from that first Saturday’s cooking–although we still have two-pounds of prosciutto in the fridge, God help us–and decided to cater bits and pieces to fill in the rest of the menu for the following weekend.
Below, a compilation of what I served, but also what I originally planned to serve, to aid in planning your next winter party, plus some tips and notes:
Along with Camembert and white beans, boeuf bourguignon ranks high among the Frenchman’s all time favorite foods. I remember making it in culinary school–a two day process–and I’ve made it once a winter since, always from Julia Child’s recipe. It’s a lovely cold weather dish, but the truth is, it’s a pain–fussy and time consuming.
My copy is now a ticker tape parade of must makes–pho, focaccia, smoked salmon–but the recipe I was drawn to first was their modernized (read: less finicky) version of boeuf bourguignon. The process has been trimmed, but the results are just as rich and wonderful. And the recipe feeds a crowd, or a family of two for many meals. (It yields 3 quarts or 6 pints, which I portion and freeze, equating roughly to 10 meals for the Frenchman and me.) This is good news in our (new!) apartment.
This recipe was published with permission from America’s Test Kitchen. They’ve generously offered a copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader. Simply leave a comment describing your favorite classic recipe by January 5th.
The Frenchman’s been away since the hem of Monday morning. Almost a week alone has meant the submission of all leisure time to the alter of A Little Life, which I listen to on my commute in the morning, and again in snatches throughout the day when I should be working, and then all evening and night until I finally fall asleep way past my bedtime. It’s one of those books that takes over.
Presently we’re in a strange limbo: half our current–soon to be “old”–apartment is packed up. We’re selling off our furniture piecemeal. The new place has brand new shelves and wallpaper, but no bed. We leave for our honeymoon (in New Zealand!) on December 18th, so–somehow–we’ll find a way to wrap up our work projects, and haul our lives across the river before then. Right? Is there an alternative? I have a premonition I won’t take a deep breath until I’m on that plane.
And now something happy to listen to in the background while you brew this punch: I’ve long been a fan of the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. In a recent episode, Linda Holmes interviews Trevor Noah. I enjoyed the interview a lot; it’s thoughtful, funny, and smart.