Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jenny Craig? Adderall? Master Cleanse?

Cabbage soup -- thin, brothy, and jaundiced yellow
I've been listening to Born Round, Frank Bruni's memoir of his struggles with weight and bulimia before becoming the restaurant critic for the New York Times. I like it a lot. Bruni is an excellent companion -- clever, confidential, self-deprecating -- and I turn him on whenever I'm cleaning or driving or cooking. He's my new gay best friend, notwithstanding the fact we've never met.  Sometimes he overshares, but I like that it in a gay best friend. Or any best friend. Plus, it's gratifying to hear about someone who is (or was) far more extreme and neurotic about weight than I have ever been.  It makes me feel better.

And worse.

Because -- and I don't want to be mean, but Bruni says it himself! -- he ate like a pig when he was fat. He ate chickens and left piles of bones in his car. He emptied minibars. He got up in the middle of the night and made mountains of pasta. He consumed multiple ice cream sandwiches at a sitting. And then when he finally started eating slightly less and generally understanding about portion control and moderation and exercise, the pounds melted away.

That's how it works. For men.

My husband stops buying candy bars, restricts himself to 6 homemade chocolate chip cookies per night, and a week later weighs what he did in college. I eat tiny portions of cabbage soup and oatgurt, lay off the negronis, do not touch the Easter candy, not even a Peep, go to bed hungry, yet remain as sturdy as a draft horse. I am losing weight, but at the rate of a few ounces a week. You have to admire an implacable body like mine. It is a stalwart body, a strong body, a good body in a famine. I'm trying to look on the bright side.

I've made a few more dishes from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day:

-kale salad. Imagine kale chips tossed with toasted coconut and quinoa. Unfortunately, I don't love kale chips. If you do, try this recipe. Otherwise, try Martha Stewart's kale salad and skip to Swanson's green lentil soup.

-green lentil soup. There are a gazillion lentil soups out there, but Swanson's is special. (She credits Small Shed Flatbreads, a fabulous little restaurant here in my town, for the inspiration.) You cook down some onion and garlic in coconut oil, then simmer your lentils and when it's all soft and falling apart, puree with coconut milk and stir in some curry powder and butter. (The recipe is here; I used water instead of broth.)  I've made this twice in a week, once for a family dinner and a few nights later as the opening course of a tiny dinner party. It's super-easy and somewhat fattening, but if a modest bowl of this is all you eat for dinner, I consider it a reasonable meal. Perhaps erroneously.

-Ravioli in harissa. I made this for the second course of the small party that opened with green lentil soup. Storebought ravioli, olives, broccoli, feta, harissa. I ate one raviolo. Based on that one raviolo, it was a fine dish.

-Two days ago, frustrated at my inability to lose weight, I made Swanson's delicious but very austere cabbage and chickpea soup for lunch and ate a single bowl. It's brothy and you feel thin and deprived when you're eating it. You also feel poor. It tastes like what I imagine Flemish peasants ate in the 16th century, except with lots of curry powder. I had it again for lunch yesterday and will have it again today.

Now, it is time for the highlight of my day: spin class.

Monday, April 25, 2011

From soup to shoes

cauliflower soup
The spring here has been flat and gray and the American suburbs seem lonely and bleak and Barcelona, in memory, populous and lively and engrossing. If the sun would just stop being so coy maybe all would look rosier. We took a walk Saturday morning, bundled in our jackets, and under the sad white sky we saw a bobcat, a half dozen wild turkeys, a deer, an enormous black beetle, lupines, poppies, the mighty Pacific Ocean, cliffs, a sandy beach, and many joggers in unflattering tights listening to iPods. I whined to my husband that I think I made some wrong life choices because I was so much happier looking at people in harem pants and chunky glasses in Spain. You should all feel very sorry for me. . .

But only because I'm on a for-real diet. I'm trying to make it interesting and delicious, with moderate success. Friday, I had my biggest hit with the cauliflower soup from Heidi Swanson's new Super Natural Every Day. This soup does include croutons and a small amount of aged cheddar cheese, but I still think it counts as a dietetic dinner if you consume just one bowl. The soup is rich and mustardy (!) and if you have this book, rest assured that you can use water instead of stock, omit the shallots, and toast any bread you have around for the croutons (I used leftover English muffins, ciabatta, and hamburger buns) and end up with a supernaturally outstanding meal.

I'm completely under the spell of Super Natural Every Day. I did not plan this. I was planning to cook from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, as I mentioned a few weeks ago. But that book has never quite seized my imagination. Meanwhile, I'm constantly picking up Super Natural Every Day and flipping through it, the way I was constantly flipping through Pioneer Woman Cooks a year ago. Although Heidi Swanson and Ree Drummond are pretty much polar opposites, they both forcefully convey their personalities and sensibilities through food. This is exactly what has always beguiled me about cookbooks: the way they can express so much while seeming to talk about muffins and main courses.

If you're unfamiliar with Swanson's blog, she's a vegetarian who embraces creamy vegetable fats (avocado, coconut oil) and unusual beans and grains. She uses a bit of cheese in her recipes, but never much, and she skimps on sugar.  Her photographs are lush and gorgeous, her voice is measured and precise, and her work inspiring and aspirational. I want to step into the lovely, orderly world she depicts and become the kind of restrained and principled person who can say:

"I do my best to keep a relatively minimalist kitchen, treating it more like a studio space than anything else. . . ."

"You'll likely notice I don't automatically season every one of my recipes with salt and pepper."

"I use little whispers of toasted sesame oil in my cooking but it can be devastatingly overpowering. To say I'm judicious with it is an understatement."

"I find myself most excited about light, bright, refreshing beverages. . . on the fancy beverage front, my repertoire is short and spritzy and none involve hard alcohol."

Sadly, the words "light," "bright," and "refreshing" do not describe the beverages that excite me most. I am most excited by drinks that are "heavy," "complex," and "intoxicating." They always involve hard alcohol. I season everything with salt and pepper. I've never cooked with a "whisper"of anything -- certainly not delicious sesame oil! --  and my kitchen and its cabinets look less like a studio space than the attic of a grandmother with hoarding tendencies. These are clearly my preferences; this is clearly my personality.

And yet here I am, halfway to 90, still envying and aspiring to the aesthetic of others, like I don't have one of my own. My mother did this, too. It's the insecurity of the magpie, the magpie who envies the minimalist.

A magpie sensibility is one reason, pace Gabrielle Hamilton, I ultimately found Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table so delightful to work from. I still haven't gotten that book out of my system. At first glance it's hard to figure out where Greenspan is going with the jumble of recipes, but once you plunge in you discover it's a magpie book that joyfully pulls from all sources and uses all manner of ingredients at the expense of an instantly discernible aesthetic. Don't be deceived. There's a unifying spirit to the book, and it's the inclusive and vibrant spirit of the magpie.

Anyway, here is Swanson's description of her honey and rose water tapioca: "The key to this fragrant tapioca pudding is a light touch with the honey and rose water. Too much of either and the tapioca goes from being lovely, charming and understated to vampy and garish."

I love rosewater more than I can say. I always double the amount called for in recipes. I will now, in a very awkward segue, provide the requested photograph of the platform shoes I brought back from Spain:

Too clunky to be vampy, but definitely garish. Muxart.
Are these loud green shoes a garish anomaly in my closet?

 I am afraid not:

Very cheap. Very uncomfortable. In 5 years, never worn, but treasured. 

Garish. Magpie.

In other news, we got leashes for our goats so we can take them into the unfenced part of the yard to eat blackberry vines. The other night I teased Isabel, who is 14: "Would you rather go without food for 24 hours or take the goats on a walk around the block."

Isabel: "Twenty-four hours? I'd rather go without food for 48 hours."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We were supposed to go to Japan, but. . .


In Barcelona we ate ham and sobrasada and took the train to Girona, which we loved, and toured the Gaudi park, which we didn't, and heard Bach in a cathedral. We all like Fanta limon and patatas bravas, but the thing I will miss most about Barcelona is L'Ascensor. (Go there! Order a pomada.) 

 Owen bought a magic set, the instructions to which were in Spanish thereby rendering it useless and him tearful. Isabel bought a sundress that she might wear to middle school graduation. Mark watched soccer with true soccer fans in a bar, twice. I bought a pair of fashion-forward shoes that I may never wear, but like to look at.
Daytime drinking

The other day something (this) made me laugh so hard that Owen rudely yelled at me to STOP because I was interrupting The Witches of Waverly Place dubbed into Spanish. I thought, wow, I've developed quite a hearty belly laugh to go along with my belly. And then something else happened later that day and I laughed again and realized I didn't have a new "fat" laugh. It had just been a really long time since I'd laughed.
crazy sea creature and paella

 We're home again now and while I'm happy to see our goats and to catch up on The Killing, mostly I'm sorry this vacation is over. It was very, very special.

Do you know what I didn't miss?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Apparently I'd rather look at people than art

How I felt before coming to Barcelona.
It is hard not to lapse into cliches writing about a magical place like Barcelona. We all know the pace of life is different in Spain, art is part of every day life, walking down the street you feel the centuries collapse, people are more cultured, blah blah blah blah. All true. But I will try to provide more original commentary, however shallow. I guarantee it will be very shallow.

Some things I've noticed:

-Women wear harem pants here, but there are no Ugg boots. I think these about cancel each other out as bad fashion decisions.  Unfamiliar with harem pants? Harem pants. I had a pair in 1986.

-Rompers. On grown women. Perhaps becoming trendy again in the U.S. as well? I can't get past how much I dislike the name to actually assess the look. I'm sure, like everything, it looks good if you're thin enough.

-Ugly glasses. A lot of glasses like these, but on young beauties, male and female. Fashionable in the urban U.S., but I think more so here.

-Flesh colored nylons! With shorts! This is not a fabulous look, but as one with very pale legs, I half hope it catches fire.

-Random outrageously chic outfits.

You don't see this while shopping for quinoa at the Mill Valley Whole Foods.

Men have a fashion thing going on of their very own but it's one I can't begin to decode. It involves closely cropped hair, tight shirts, and a slightly puffed out torso, like they're just about to stop a soccer ball with their chests.

Finally, while it is true that Americans are fat, if my eyes don't deceive me, many Europeans are rather plump.

We're having lots of fun. My kids are so lucky. I didn't go to Europe until I was twenty and it's already so clear that international travel is helping them grow up more cosmopolitan and cultured:

Hoot is an awesome book. 

In all seriousness, though, I want to thank you for your dining and sightseeing suggestions. Yesterday we went to the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat and it was fascinating, especially the tiny ancient dice and the wine cellar. We walked to Cal Pep for dinner, but the line was too long and Owen was too crabby-hungry, so we had to make do with a place we passed on the way. That was a big disappointment, because it looked wonderful. I bought torron -- four kinds -- at Planelles Donat today. I have only tasted the egg yolk variety and it is delicious. The others are (presumably) for gifts. I have eaten both squid and cuttlefish -- I can't quite figure out the difference -- and they were unbelievably good. Today I tried to order a sobrasada sandwich but the waitress just gave me cheese with red pepper spread, which I don't think is correct. I will try again. Everything you all suggested is written down and in my bag and I plan to act on as much of it as I can. Thank-you so much.
Tasty little fried fish.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Speaking of hot chocolate

Here in Barcelona it is like warm mousse.

We barely got out the door on this vacation. We arrived earlier this afternoon and I am so incredibly strung out, but so happy to be here.  

If anyone has recommendations for Barcelona restaurants, museums, shops, side trips -- anything -- let me know.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Cocoa recipe, as requested

brown sugar cocoa mix vs. powdered sugar cocoa mix
I've been sweetening cocoa mix with powdered sugar, but the other day decided to substitute brown sugar. This morning we cross-tested. Three of us preferred cocoa mix made with brown sugar, which tastes bigger, rounder, richer. And sweeter. (Brown sugar weighs more than powdered sugar.) Owen was the lone holdout for powdered sugar.

Majority rules. Brown sugar it is. Though I'll probably eventually go back to powdered as he is the only regular drinker of cocoa in our house.


1 1/2  cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1. Sift the ingredients together into a bowl. It's hard to sift brown sugar, but can and should be done to properly blend. Some kosher salt will be left in the sifter at the end of the sifting. Toss it in with the mix and whisk to blend. Store in a jar in the cupboard. Makes 3 cups.

To make cocoa, use 2 tablespoons cocoa mix and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla per cup of hot milk.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

4/6: Things I cooked, books I listened to

Rye bread
I had no idea Owen read my blog until he came storming into the kitchen last night, yelling about a caption in which I'd written: "Owen would never admit it, but I think he's going for Justin Bieber hair." Owen said, "It would be like if I had a blog and wrote, 'My mom's really old and though she'd never admit it, she tries to look young.'"

The caption has been changed. But I wonder if that paragraph I just wrote violates his rules. Hmm. If so, I'm sure he will let me know and I will erase.

Yesterday: quite productive in recipe testing. If you want any of these recipes, I will happily post.

First: deli rye bread (see top).

Assessment: Recipe is solid, bread is very good. My only regret is that it works so much better with high gluten flour, a special order ingredient I didn't want to have to recommend in my book.

hot chocolate mix

Assessment: Good. Dislike cocoa powder because it makes such a mess, but it has been gratifying to demystify Swiss Miss.
fudgy flourless chocolate cake
Assessment: Superb! Much loved by all. As you can see. Very pleased with this recipe.

Angel pie
Assessment: Looks as it should. Will taste today.

sauerkraut and kimchi

Assessment: Both look correct. Will have to wait a few days so they can ferment.


Assessment: Love. 
peanut butter

Assessment: Love.

english muffins

Assessment: Don't love. Like. Not sure there's enough of a payoff with homemade english muffins. Recipe is solid, yield correct.

root beer, ginger ale, cream soda

Assessment: Only the ginger ale was ready as of this morning. It's phenomenally good and gingery and tastes almost healthy, like a tonic. Root beer hasn't been great in the past, so I doubt it will make the cut. 

vanilla creme brulee
Assessment: Looks correct, but haven't torched it yet. There were limits to how much we could eat yesterday. I tried to fancy this up with cardamom the last time, and was harshly censured by family.

Assessment: Perfect. This recipe isn't going in the book, but has certainly helped and hindered the writing of the book. Foolishly, I mixed the negroni before tackling my most nettlesome recipe.

duck egg ravioli with ricotta, smoked paprika, and asparagus
Assessment: Delicious, but sloppy. I may have to retest without cocktail in hand.

Books listened yesterday to while cooking:

Freakonomics. I'm late to this party. As I'm sure a lot of you know, it's a pretty good party. A little too smarty pants/smugly counterintuitive/Malcolm Gladwellish, but interesting, especially the stuff about names. I named my daughter "Isabel" in 1996. According to Freakonomics, you could write a socioeconomic profile of me based on that one fact. Recommend this audiobook, if not strongly.

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. Although Elizabeth Gilbert's work is obviously much adored by the female population at large, none of my friends like her. None. I loaned Eat, Pray, Love to a friend who brought it back the next day and made savage fun of it. Well, I loved Eat, Pray, Love. Go ahead, snicker. I can take it. I even loved the widely panned sequel, Committed. Written before either of those two books, The Last American Man is a profile of a real life male who is very similar to the males in 127 Hours and Into The Wild, a type I find incomprehensible, annoying, intriguing, and had crushes on when I was 15 and then never again. I think this audiobook is excellent and highly recommend. Narrated by Patricia Kalember. Remember Thirtysomething? I thought they were all so old.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

On your mark. . .

Owen, waffle.
I started today by making waffles. Recipe is polished. Language is precise. Yield is correct. My work is done -- on waffles. I have to cook nonstop today and every day until Sunday, when I send the manuscript of my book back to the publisher,  the goat sitter arrives, and we leave on our spring break vacation. I'm going to take pictures of everything I cook from now until then and post them. It will motivate me and help me feel amused by the effort, rather than gloomy and overwhelmed.

Pork shoulder after 10 hours in the kettle grill.
To backtrack a bit, I made pulled pork again on Saturday and managed to take some pictures this time. The meat was better -- juicier and less overwhelmingly smoky and spicy -- than the first time because I used natural charcoal and omitted chile powder. Guys, even if you're not Southern, you can totally do this! And if you're Southern, why would you need to? If I could buy South Carolina pulled pork, I wouldn't go to the trouble of making it.

Pulled pork sandwich, baked beans, slaw. 
I was thinking it would be fun this spring and summer to have a barbecue party every Saturday. I could move on to ribs and brisket and mutton. . . .

But never goat.

That is a hen.

Monday, April 04, 2011


How to cook and wash dishes all day, every day, week after week, without going completely mad:

  Mill Valley Public Library
  375 Throckmorton
  Mill Valley, CA  94941
  415-389-4292 ext. 127

 Your requested material is here.  If you no longer want the material,
 please call the library at the phone number listed above.  Thank you.

 AUTHOR:  Gilbert, Elizabeth,          AUTHOR:  Bailey, Blake
 The last American man [sound recordin Cheever [sound recording] : a life
 CALL NO: CD 305.31 Gilbert            CALL NO: CD Bio CHEEVER
 BARCODE: 31111023247545               BARCODE: 31111030361354
 PICKUP AT: Mill Valley BY: 04-10-11   PICKUP AT: Mill Valley BY: 04-08-11

 AUTHOR:  Warren, Robert Penn,
 All the king's men [sound recording]
 CALL NO: CD Fiction Warren
 BARCODE: 31111027545076
 PICKUP AT: Mill Valley BY: 04-08-11

 AUTHOR:  Bruni, Frank                    JENNIFER MARIE REESE
 Born round [sound recording] : the se    
 CALL NO: CD Bio BRUNI                    
 BARCODE: 31111029583430
 PICKUP AT: Mill Valley BY: 04-08-11

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Feeling bad about your life/house/slatternly self?

Well, I am here to make you feel better.

Does your sink look like this?

Does the walkway to your front door look like this?

Does your son's room look like this?

Does your "garden" look like this?
Did goats knock down the bee hives on your back deck? 
Are you having company for dinner in 3 hours?

See? You're in great shape.

People, I'm so under water, what with finishing my book and cleaning out my mother's house and then I start feeling bad about broken promises regarding this blog. So I suppose this is my way of apologizing and explaining.

I made Danish pastries this morning. For the book. Of course. They're pretty but they puffed way too much and I don't know why because I made them as I always do and now I'm worried about the recipe which means I'll have to test it again.

As you can imagine, the prospect fills me with joy.