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.
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.
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 »
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 »
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 »
Last Sunday dawned bright and breezy and perfectly spring. The Frenchman and I drove an hour from our apartment to the parking lot of a strip mall. We waited. After a time, a jeep wrangler came careening into the lot, and parked beside us. Inside was my favorite market farmer and his wife. We said good morning, and he joked again that it was time to blindfold us and stuff us into the trunk before the next stage of our operation. Read more »
For those who don’t know–I didn’t until very recently–a cremolada is Peruvian; a sort of slush puppy made with tropical fruit, water, and sugar. The basic formula is: blend juice, sugar, and water; freeze the mixture in ice cube trays; when frozen, blend again. This is my twist on the classic. The tequila is optional, but recommended.
You can double or triple this recipe, as long as you have the ice cube trays to support it. This way, you can make individual drinks as desired, or continue to blend batches fresh throughout a party. Makes 5 cups. Serves 4. Read more »