In the garden there are chives. I noticed them a few weeks ago on my way to the basement, tiny tendrils of green struggling to break through a tangled mass of weeds. I don’t deserve these chives. Last summer I planted nothing. I watched as weeds licked tentatively at the edges of the perennial bed and then swiftly claimed it as their own. I renovated my kitchen. I planned an August wedding. I neglected the garden and let the weeds go to seed. They grew so thick and consumed the garden so completely that I was stunned to see the chives emerge this spring, perennial though they are. “Oh my goodness, chives,” I whispered in wonder. I’m like this in the garden sometimes. You plant things; they grow. Despite the simple logic inherent in that process, I continue to be amazed and humbled by the divine beauty of it all.
And so, thusly bowled over by the presence of chives, I abandoned whatever task had sent me to the basement in the first place and knelt beside them on the newly-thawed ground to free the chives from their suffocating tangle of weeds. I yanked weeds from the cold, loamy soil until my fingers were nearly numb. I wrestled with tap roots and rhizomes and perniciously creeping root systems until the entire perennial bed was clear. I might have accidentally uprooted some asparagus. Also, I was wearing my pajamas at the time. If you had asked me even five years ago if I could envision a future in which I did yard work in my slippers, I would have laughed you right out of town. And yet there I was, dirt-streaked and be-flanneled in the gathering dusk. For the love of chives.
This morning I snipped a handful of chives and folded them into scrambled eggs. I’ve been eating scrambled eggs all my life — the quick and dirty kind, whisked into a frothy frenzy and scrambled in seconds over high heat. I like those eggs, but these are not those eggs. These eggs are soft and slow and creamy, stirred more than scrambled in a satisfyingly leisurely process that results in dense, luxurious curds. The chives impart a delicate onion flavor and herbaceous springy freshness to the richly creamy eggs, and the whole thing comes together in a perfectly lovely homage to the perennial nature of nature.
1/8 tsp. table salt
pinch of white pepper
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. cream cheese, cut into small bits
2 Tbsp. chives, minced
Whisk together the eggs, salt, and pepper until just combined. Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan (yes, saucepan). When the butter has melted, add the cream cheese to the pan and then stir in the eggs.
Cook the eggs over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will appear that nothing is happening. Such is the nature of low and slow cooking.
After about 5 minutes, the eggs will begin to form small curds and the cream cheese will begin melting. Continue to cook over low heat, stirring frequently (maybe almost constantly depending on how hot the bottom of your pan is) to break up the curds and prevent any egg from sticking to the pan.
When the eggs are nearly cooked through but still runny, fold in the chives, reserving some for garnish. Continue cooking to desired doneness. Remove from heat and serve over toast. Sprinkle with reserved chives.
It used to be that I only bought ginger ale to mix with bourbon. But inevitably I’d come home feeling bourbon-y on a Friday night and open the fridge to discover that Chris had drunk all the ginger ale. By itself. Leaving me to drink the bourbon by itself, which I assure you is not the kind of evening you want to be a part of. And since the ginger ale in question was the fancy all-natural kind and not the high fructose corn syrup-laden Canada Dry kind, keeping us in ginger ale got to be kind of expensive.
So a few months ago, when it finally dawned on me that ginger ale was made from ginger, I started making my own ginger syrup. It’s sweet and spicy and a tiny bit lemony, with a sharp, tangy freshness that’s made it a staple in our kitchen. Really, we love it. We use it as the foundation for homemade ginger ale, of course, but its warmth and sweet-spiciness meld beautifully with so many other flavors that we find ourselves adding a splash of ginger syrup to all sorts of things: green tea, lemonade, rum, gin, bourbon — pretty much anything in a glass.
It’s dead simple, affordable and incredibly versatile, the little black dress of the beverage world. Dress it up with citrus and booze or keep it classic with club soda. Either way — and every way in between — you want this ginger syrup in your fridge.
1 lb. ginger root, peeled and chopped
5 cups water
1½ cups sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1) Place ginger and water in large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Simmer partially covered for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for 20 minutes.
2) Strain through sieve, pressing ginger with back of spoon to extract liquid. Return liquid to pot, add sugar and salt, and heat until dissolved.
3) Chill syrup until cold.
Homemade Ginger Ale
makes 1 8-oz. drink
1/3 cup ginger syrup
2/3 cup club soda
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
Fill a glass with ice, add ingredients and stir. Adjust proportions to taste.
Variation: add 1½ oz. bourbon for a bourbon and ginger.
makes 1 12-oz.drink
1/3 cup ginger syrup
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup cold water
Fill a glass with ice, add ingredients and stir. Adjust proportions to taste.
Sparkling Ginger Lemonade
makes 1 12-oz. drink
1/3 cup ginger syrup
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup club soda
Fill a glass with ice, add ingredients and stir. Adjust proportions to taste.
Gingered Green Tea
Stir about 1 Tbsp. ginger syrup into a cup of green tea. Serve hot or over ice.
Dark ‘n’ Stormy
2 oz. dark rum
2 oz. ginger syrup
2 oz. club soda
Fill a glass with ice, add first three ingredients and stir. Garnish with lime wedge.
It started with the pan. Last year, around this time, I added a lovely swirled bundt pan to our wedding registry and Chris said what he always says when I attempt to acquire something new: “Don’t we already have a bundt pan/sofa/shower curtain/cat?” In this case, we did already have a perfectly serviceable bundt pan, but I hypothesized — on the actual registry — that I’d bake five times as many cakes in such a pretty pan.
And then, a few days before our wedding last August, Chris’s mom gave him the bundt pan for his birthday, with the understanding I’m sure that it would soon be filled with cake batter. Preferably chocolate. Since then, I’ve baked exactly zero cakes. Much to his credit, Chris hasn’t said a word about the superfluous pan or the lack of baking. That man really deserves a cake — a pretty cake, a cake filled with the sweet, mapley promise of spring.
I know most people associate maple with autumn, but maple is now. Sap runs as snow melts in the early, barely-warm days of just-spring. Before buds burst on branches, before blades of green poke up through the soft muddy ground, before watercress and wild leeks and asparagus and morels there is sap, the Earth’s first gift of spring.
The pure, clear sweetness of maple syrup is the perfect flavor to build a cake around. Here, the syrup is mixed with butter, flour and chopped pecans to form a sweet filling that bakes up crunchy and gooey inside a surprisingly light cake with a moist, tender crumb.
It’s exactly the kind of cake you want to eat in the pre-green days of late March — light but not fluffy, moist but crumbly, rich and golden and tender with a sweetness that whispers of the coming spring.
For the Filling
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. butter, softened
1¼ c. chopped pecans
½ c. grade B maple syrup
½ t. cinnamon
For the Cake
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
9 T. butter, softened
¾ c. superfine sugar
1 c. sour cream
1) To make the filling, place the flour in a medium bowl and cut the butter into the flour using your fingers or a fork. Add the pecans, maple syrup and cinnamon and mix to form a sticky paste. Set aside.
2) Preheat your oven to 350°F. Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, then add flour mixture. Beat until incorporated and then fold in sour cream. The batter will be thick and sticky.
3) Grease a bundt pan and spoon a little more than half the batter into the pan. Spread the batter up the sides and funnel about an inch – you’re creating a little indentation in the batter to keep the filling from leaking out. Spoon the filling into the indentation as evenly as you can. Cover carefully with remaining batter and smooth out the top.
4) Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.
Grade B maple syrup is darker and more flavorful than Grade A syrups, which results in a stronger maple flavor here in the cake.
Superfine sugar is often used in cake baking to yield lighter, more tender results. If you don’t have superfine sugar (or don’t want to buy it for just one recipe) plus regular granulated sugar a few times in a food processor to grind it more finely.
I know I said I had everything under control in terms of cooking real food, and I did. Briefly. But then I decided to renovate our little log cabin — a rather ambitious project that involves messy, time-consuming things like drywall and terribly inconvenient things like gutting the entire kitchen (the entirety of which is a mere 62 square feet, but still). And a couple of months ago, Chris popped into our not-yet-gutted kitchen to announce that he wanted to be with me all the time forever, so I’m also planning a wedding. It’s a very small, very casual wedding (as far as weddings go), but still. Then there is also the small matter of my actual job and the fact that I’m pretty obsessive about pretty much everything.
These are not the sort of conditions that foster creativity in the kitchen. These are more the sort of conditions that foster major meltdowns in the grocery. I know this because I recently had such a meltdown. It involved a box of Rice-a-Roni, which is pretty much rock bottom for me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. Actually, yes, I am saying that. You shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. I shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. Nobody should buy Rice-a-Roni. Real food is important, and it is really really easy to make rice. Sometimes we buy Rice-a-Roni anyway. I get that.
But I firmly believe that is it just as easy to make good food as it is to make bad food, and it generally takes about the same amount of time. Lately I’ve been making asparagus. I bring a basketful home from the Farmers Market every week and delight in figuring out how to turn those pretty green stalks into dinner. Asparagus pesto is an old standby, but my favorite of this season is an asparagus bread salad. It’s bright and fresh and hearty all at the same time, with dainty slivers of asparagus and tender white beans nestled in among chunks of crusty grilled bread. The bread soaks up a bit of the lemony dressing without becoming soggy and the whole dish is accented with bits of parmesan. All of this comes together beautifully and quite deliciously, in a way that says, “Oh yes. Food. How lovely to see you again.”
Despite the home renovation and the wedding plans, I intend to do more with this blog than pop in every four months to announce that I got too busy to cook anything worth mentioning but I promise to be good from now on. A girl can only do that so many times (two?) before she starts to look silly. Plus, maintaining a blog about seasonal cooking helps discourage me from buying packaged crap.
Asparagus & White Bean Bread Salad
adapted from Gourmet
I tossed in a handful of salad greens, but I think the salad is actually better without them. The greens appear in the photo but not in the recipe. Feel free to add them if you like.
1 lb asparagus
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ c. + 2 T. olive oil
1 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed well
½ t. finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 T. fresh lemon juice
½ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
4 slices thick, crusty bread
4 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ c. chopped parsley
1) Trim woody ends from asparagus and slice on the diagonal into ¼” thick slices.
2) In a large sauté pan, heat ¼ c. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Stir in the beans, lemon juice and zest, then season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
3) Brush both sides of the bread with remaining 2 T. olive oil and grill (or broil, if you’d prefer) over high heat until nicely browned, about 3-5 minutes. Cool slightly and tear the bread into bite-sized chunks.
4) Spoon asparagus & bean mixture into large bowl, add torn bread, and toss to combine. Shave cheese over salad, sprinkle with parsley, and toss again before serving warm.
For nearly four months this blog has languished here, neglected and forlorn, half-heartedly attempting to entice passersby with embarrassingly out-of-season recipes for things like zucchini and raspberries and — good lord — rhubarb. It’s not the blog’s fault, really. In September I started an awesome new job and, awesome though it is, it required some settling in to. Then all of a sudden it was Thanksgiving, followed immediately by the inevitable Christmas craziness — a month-long stretch during which we saw our pizza dude far more frequently than I care to admit. On the rare occasions that I found time to make something worth mentioning here, I looked at my calendar and realized it would be weeks before I was likely to do so again.
But I have things under control now. For the past month I’ve managed to cook almost every night. Real meals. Made from actual food! Last week I signed up for Eat Your Books, a handy-dandy new website that allows me to search the index of every cookbook I own in a matter of seconds. As I contemplated a lone head of cauliflower yesterday, Eat Your Books informed me that my library contains 99 recipes for cauliflower — a whole world of possibilities. And from that world of possibilities I selected a recipe I’ve made a dozen times before. Hey, baby steps.
What kind of college has no football, no fraternities or sororities, and believes that one person can change the world? The kind of college my twelfth grade self had her little seventeen-year-old heart set on. More specifically, Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. In the wave of post-SAT college literature that flooded my mailbox (I must have checked a box: “Would you like to receive information from every college on the planet?”), Warren Wilson stood out. They had a farm, right there at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the green and the blue and the fog all merge into one misty cavalcade of beauty. A farm, which presumably you could work on instead of, say, going to Biology class.
In retrospect, that’s probably what freaked my parents out. Because no way in hell was I going to Warren Wilson College, a hippie school. So I didn’t. I went to a nice little state school, with no football and no fraternities or sororities. And, incidentally, no shortage of hippies.
So it comes as little surprise to my parents that I’ve spent a portion of my summer volunteering at a farm, or that I’ve taken such pleasure in it. My favorite farm chore — for reasons I can’t even begin to explain — turns out to be picking raspberries, though I’m also rather fond of weeding. On my family’s most recent visit, when I returned dirty-kneed from a morning at the farm with red-stained fingers and bramble-scratched arms and a contented smile, I heard my father mutter to my mother, “Maybe we should have let her go to Warren Wilson.” Maybe. Perhaps in some parallel universe they did, and my parallel self became exactly the sort of left-wing radical they’d always feared she would, throwing herself in front of bulldozers and chasing nuclear submarines around in a rubber dinghy with buckets of blood at the ready. Or perhaps — as I believe was my dad’s point — she, too turned out to be a quiet sort of hippie, the kind of girl who believes you’re much more likely to save the world with raspberries than with blood.
When I discovered beets in my CSA basket this week I figured I had two choices: toss them directly onto the compost heap or bake them into a cake.
I don’t like cake and I don’t like beets, so I’m not sure what made me think I would like a cake made out of beets. Possibly it was the assurance that “even confirmed beet-bashers will love this cake” in the introduction to the recipe or the fact that my foodie friend Katie mentioned that she’d tried it and liked it, but I suspect it was the chocolate. Of all the ingredients on this earth, chocolate seems the most likely candidate for transforming beets from a mouthful of musty dirt into something that people might actually want to eat.
One major drawback to living in a place like Northern Michigan is that there are no hushpuppies. Oh sure, a handful of restaurants in the area claim to serve hushpuppies but, as it turns out, those things are not hushpuppies. I’m not sure what they are, but trust me when I tell you that they’re not hushpuppies. Hushpuppies — so named for their power to quiet the barking dogs of hunters and fishermen gathered around their campfires or of Confederate soldiers hoping to prevent Union scouts from discovering their campfires or of fugitive slave hunters attempting to thwart runaway slaves’ passage along the Underground Railroad or, well, nobody really knows for sure — have long been a staple of Southern cuisine. They’re hot, delicious little morsels of fried cornmeal dough, golden-crisp on the outside and densely bready on the inside. In the South, they’re a standard accompaniment to just about everything from barbecue sandwiches to crabcakes; in the Midwest, if you want a hushpuppy you’ll have to make it yourself.
My to-do list is kicking my ass. And not in the normal boy, am I busy way, either; it’s kicking my ass in more of a it’s 10:00 — do you mind if we just have pickles for dinner? way. My point here is that it’s been a busy week — the sort of week in which last week’s clean laundry languishes unfolded at the foot of the bed and dust bunnies gather in corners to plot their eventual takeover of the living room and minor concerns like eating and sleeping slip to the bottom of the priority list. After a week like that, a girl really deserves a cocktail. Or seven. Preferably in a warm, sandy spot near a large body of water, but the important thing is the cocktail.
On an unusually warm afternoon in the summer of 1980, my sister and I wandered into a little thicket of shade created by enormous ruffly leaves curving out from bright red stalks just tall enough for little girls to play beneath. Elated at such a discovery, we raced home to collect our buckets and shovels and then, for reasons intelligible only to little girls, spent the rest of the afternoon happily digging in the cool dirt amid those leafy stalks. I’m not sure if this memory has stuck with me for nearly thirty years because that patch of shade was such a lovely place in which to play or because of the boatload of trouble we got into when our favorite digging spot turned out to be the rhubarb patch of a neighbor lady whose Navy husband significantly outranked our father.
I spent a significant portion of my life steadfastly maintaining that mushrooms were for trolls. Most kids would have been content to simply wrinkle their noses and refuse to eat mushrooms, but I built up an elaborate justification for my distaste: namely that mushrooms are squishy and grow in wet, woodsy places. Where trolls live. And, what with my not being a troll and all, I couldn’t reasonably be expected to eat them. Of course, then I became a vegetarian, so I couldn’t reasonably be expected to eat cute little animals who had lived lives of suffering and misery either.
I can be rather difficult at times, which is probably why those who knew me in my troll-food days feel particularly vindicated when I call them to enthuse about an upcoming mushroom festival or to describe the day I spent helping a farmer inoculate logs with shiitake spawn or to report that I’ve just eaten an entire morel and asparagus pizza and boy was it yummy.
For months now I’ve flipped wistfully through magazine after magazine, mooning over photos of dark green stalks and oohing and ahhing at recipes as I daydream of Spring. I’ve repeatedly paused beside the co-op’s local produce cooler, glancing from turnip to, well, turnip and heaving great put-upon sighs before wending my way listlessly among the monotonous aisles of pantry staples. I’ve attempted to cheer myself up by flirting with spinach and chard and other leafy greens as they’ve appeared, but I’ve remained inconsolable. I’ve been waiting for asparagus.
What I hadn’t counted on, despite the praise heaped upon them by every publication from Bon Appétit to National Geographic, was ramps. Wild ramps, by virtue of their very wildness, are a hallmark of culinary hipster-dom, the food world’s equivalent of skinny jeans and high-top Chucks and loving that band long before you’d ever even heard of it. But that’s no reason not to try them. Ramps grow in moist, wooded areas across most of the US and parts of Canada and are easily distinguished from their lily of the valley look-alikes by their ridiculously oniony smell. I found mine not far from the asparagus — in the produce cooler, safe and sound inside a clear plastic bag bearing a handwritten sticker that identified them as wild ramps. I suspect this makes me a bit of a poseur, but as long as I steer clear of broken-in chinos I’ll probably be okay.
I’m rather fond of putting eggs on top of things. For a long time I merely slid them onto tried-and-true platforms like toast or hash browns, but these days I also like to scramble them into fried rice, crack them onto pizza dough, or fry them up with strips of stale tortillas and toss the whole mess with salsa and sliced avocado. I’m not alone in this enthusiasm; Bon Appétit recently predicted that anything with an egg on top would be 2009’s dish of the year.
Having spent the better part of my morning carefully poaching, breading, and then deep-frying an egg, I’d like to nominate this particular preparation for 2009’s egg of the year. Or something like that. Because a deep-fried poached egg rocks. I mean, you probably don’t want to have one every morning unless you’re on some sort of Homer Simpsonesque weight-gain regimen, but the combination of crispy crust, tender white and soft, runny yolk is fan-freakin’-tastic.
On a typical weeknight Chris and I like to watch Jeopardy and then, once I’ve finished kicking Chris’s ass, Alton Brown’s Good Eats. Such is the exciting life of nerds. Truth be told, I only beat him at Jeopardy about half the time and Chris only tolerates Good Eats because AB occasionally talks about bacon. We mostly watch because I kind of have a thing for Alton Brown, what with his geeky culinary evangelism and his cheesy impersonations of historical figures. But the other night instead of Good Eats we caught a very old rerun of the first ever episode of Feasting on Asphalt, in which AB meanders through Georgia and the Carolinas sampling collards and pinto beans, fried chicken and pickled pigs’ feet, and cornbread and biscuits.
It was the biscuits that got me.
There’s absolutely nothing local about grapefruit, but you know what’s available locally right now? Turnips. There might still be a couple winter squash in my basement, but mostly it’s turnips. I’m not even sure I like turnips, so when a coworker mentioned that her daughter’s school was having a fruit fundraiser I succumbed to the siren song of citrus and ordered twelve pounds of grapefruit. Twelve pounds sounds like a lot of grapefruit, but it’s really not. The fruit was delivered last Friday and when I arrived at work the following Monday eager to chat with my friend and fellow grapefruit enthusiast Katie, she’d nearly run out. “What did you do with them?” I asked, hoping for a brilliant recipe I’d not yet discovered. “I just ate them,” she answered.
Oh. That honestly hadn’t occurred to me.
I’ve always had a rocky relationship with leftovers. I grew up in a fairly obsessive family for whom garbage night was a major production that naturally involved cleaning out the fridge. My father was particularly fond of this weekly ritual; he’d bustle from refrigerator to microwave to table, peering into smelly tupperware containers, shaking nearly empty bottles and saying things like, “It’s garbage night. Who wants to finish this ketchup?”
Needless to say, nobody really wanted to finish that ketchup. Nor could any of us be convinced that three spears of mushy canned asparagus, a crusty corner of rubbery lasagna, and half a pork chop of questionable age constituted a decent meal. Yet such were the offerings on a typical leftover night; we ate what there was to eat and then admired the clear, white space we’d created inside our refrigerator.
But despite the satisfaction a newly-organized refrigerator brings, it’s taken many years and several revelations for me to warm up to the idea of eating leftovers on purpose. Revelation number one: the microwave is capable of ruining just about anything, so it’s much better to repurpose leftovers than to reheat them. Once I’d embraced that concept I made all sorts of wonderful discoveries, not the least of which was suppli di riso, which is really just a fancy Italian way to say, “rice balls.”
Whenever I’m called upon to feed a crowd my thoughts turn to slaw. Truth be told, my thoughts turn to slaw — with its delightful crispy, crunchy freshness — far more frequently than any social engagements require, but the point here is that slaw is the perfect thing to take along to a picnic or a potluck or any sort of food-related festivity. It’s easy, inexpensive, and it can be made from whatever vegetables happen to be in season. Although it’s a great do-ahead dish because the longer it sits (within reason) the more the flavors blend, it can just as easily be thrown together at the last minute for an impromptu gathering without sacrificing a great deal of yumminess. Plus slaw looks pretty, tastes fabulous, and is a hell of a lot better for you than pigs in a blanket. In fact, I whipped some up earlier in anticipation of Academy Awards revelry.
You know those furrowed-brow-type people you see in the grocery store picking up packages of this or that, frowning at labels and then returning the offending products to the shelf with a disgusted little shake of their heads? I am one of those people. I like to think I’m not the only one of those people, but it stands to reason that if there were more of us the labels wouldn’t be quite so full of unpronounceable bullshit. Which brings me to the puff pastry.
Unless you live near a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods (I don’t) and are comfortable spending six or seven dollars on a sixteen ounce package of crap-free frozen puff pastry (I’m not), your choices are limited: Pepperidge Farm in all of its partially hydrogenated glory or nothing at all. I’ve generally gone with the nothing at all option, but after years of rejecting scads of perfectly delicious-sounding tart recipes, I had a puff pastry epiphany. “How hard can it be?” I thought, and set about gathering the necessary ingredients.
We like pizza at our house. We especially like Chicago-style pizza, what with one of us being from Chicagoland and all. In fact, the last time we visited the Windy City, we indulged in a late-night snack at Pizano’s despite relatively sated appetites. “Let’s go get a pizza,” I’d suggested when we found our time unexpectedly unspoken for. Chris hesitated. Hesitated! “I’m not really hungry,” he offered. “Neither am I,” I agreed, “but how often do we get to eat Chicago pizza?” So out we went. That’s how much we like pizza.
You know who else likes pizza? Our new president, a Chicagoan himself. So it made sense to commemorate his inauguration with homemade Chicago-style deep dish. Well, that an abundance of crisp, local champagne — an otherwise odd pairing that perfectly encapsulated the celebratory and egalitarian spirit of the day.
But back to the pizza: I’ve always assumed the deep dishes of gooey cheese and thick, crisp crust that arrive bubbling at your table were a complicated enterprise impossible to re-create at home. Not so; you can make deep dish pizza in your own kitchen.
Yes you can.
This afternoon I made a batch of granola, then I tossed it out into the yard for the birds and tried again. You wouldn’t think something as simple as granola would pose much of a problem for a girl who can successfully replicate Chicago deep dish pizza in her own kitchen, but the second batch ended up in the yard too. Some days are like that.
I’m really not very good at not being good at things, but a certain amount of failure is inevitable. And each of those small failures is, of course, a learning experience: screwing things up may actually be the best way to figure out how to do them correctly. Two burnt batches of granola have ensured that future batches — and there will be future batches — won’t spend more than thirty minutes in the oven, no matter how pale and soggy the oats still appear to be. Sure, a recipe can warn you of such pitfalls (as, um, I believe mine did), but you might not fully internalize those warnings until you’ve spent an afternoon making and photographing food for birds.
Our culinary blunders, then, are more setbacks than defeats, each burnt bite nudging us along toward perfection (or at least toward edible breakfast food). Good news for granola girls; bad news for birds.
I’ve never been especially good about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m opposed to self-improvement, it’s that I have trouble equating newness with the barren bleakness of January. I tend to make my resolutions at the beginning of the school year, when the world seems as new as a freshly sharpened pencil or a class roster filled with unfamiliar names. The arbitrary New Year in January, then, is merely an excuse to drink champagne.
However, in the weeks preceding the advent of this particular new year, I’d given a lot of thought to leafy greens. I frequently resolve to eat more greens, often going so far as to purchase lovely, crisp bunches of them and then watch them wither away in my refrigerator for lack of inspiration. But then I met Alice Waters. Well, I didn’t so much meet her as I read a biography of her, which prompted me to buy a few of her cookbooks and experiment with a bunch of her recipes, as a result of which I really started to get this whole leafy greens thing.