A new kind of “free night”

You probably remember my free night posts (and if you don’t you can see them here, here, here & here). Generally, free night consists of beans, tortillas, avocado, salsa, cheese, shrimp, lettuce, quesadillas or any combination of those.

The point being that you assemble it yourself, using whichever of the available ingredients floats your particular boat.

We tried a new variety of free night tonight. No beans, no salsa, just stuff we had in the fridge. It was pretty great with a red pesto, bruschetta topping, tomatoes, avocado, goat cheese, two kinds of sausage from Pace (not pictured) and a nice arugula salad with corn, zucchini, cilantro and lemon.We’re thinking we’ll do more free night around here, more often from now on. And if we do, you’ll get to see it because I have my new light.

The light!

Pasta_2_revI finally received and assembled (and tried) my new food photography light and it’s amazing. It’s like—yes it’s true—it’s like night and day.

Just look at the lovely image above of Penne with 5 Cheeses. Looks great, right? Like I took it in daylight, which is impossible because we’ve just suffered through daylight savings time and now it gets dark at 2pm (or whatever).

Take a look at the image below, it was taken at the same time of day (9:30pm), under our perfectly nice but horrible for food photography overhead lighting. Ick, right?

Well yay Lowel Ego light (and check out the yummy pasta recipe above too).Pasta-1

African peanut soup with sriracha – vegan!

PeanutSoupOne of the reasons I hardly post anymore—aside from the full time job, long commute and second kid—is that the lighting around here stinks for food photography. It’s perfectly nice overhead lighting but makes our meals look all orangey and gross.

I thought maybe my mad Photoshop skills were somehow lacking in the one area needed to get our meals not to look awful, and then I read this article and was vindicated. It’s not me, it’s the lighting!

Long story short, I’m working on the lighting. In the mean time, here’s a this totally amazing vegan peanut soup that my sister made for everyone on Thursday, which I took a picture of in glorious daylight, when I ate the leftovers for lunch.

Did I tell you my sister and brother in law moved in with us? We now have 6 adults, 2 kids and 5 cats living together in my parents’ house. It’s awesome, really.

Back to the soup. It’s thick, delicious, hearty and vegan. Full of creamy tomatoey goodness, collard greens, peanuts, served over rice and topped with Sriracha. How can you go wrong?

Anna served it with a rotisserie chicken (for Rose and the lads) and a nice cool cucumber salad. We all agreed it would be a great make-ahead.

• West African Peanut Soup •
from Cookie and Kate

6 cups vegetable broth
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 bunch collard greens (or kale), ribs removed and leaves chopped into 1-inch strips
¾ cup natural peanut butter*
½ cup tomato paste*
Sriracha 
¼ cup roughly chopped peanuts, for garnish

In a medium Dutch oven or stock pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and salt. Cook on medium-low heat for 20 minutes.

In a medium-sized, heat-safe mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter and tomato paste, then transfer 1 to 2 cups of the hot stock to the bowl. Whisk the mixture together until smooth, then pour the peanut mixture back into the soup and mix well. Stir in the collard greens and season the soup with hot sauce to taste. Simmer for about 15 more minutes on medium-low heat, stirring often. Serve over rice if you’d like, and top with a sprinkle of chopped peanuts.

* Add more peanut butter and tomato paste if you want it thicker

Just another Cape birthday (not)

My little sister turned the big four-oh a few weeks ago. In a way, it was just another Cape birthday. We had a Mexican feast, we had Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake, we had a shitload of people.

The big difference this year—besides this being the end of her 30’s—is that my sister is married now! We all agree that it was worth the wait. Happy next decade little sis.

Golden anniversary

I have to tell you about my sister’s birthday dinner. But before that, I have to tell you about my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

We had a small celebration on Cape Cod—the big one will be in a couple of months—to mark 50 years of wedded bliss. Kidding. This is the real world! But seriously, they’re a pretty awesome couple, we should all be so lucky.

Shane pretty much commandeered dinner, my mom did the decoration, and I made the cake (natch).

We ate homemade pizza, meatballs, roasted cubanelles and salad, on the beach by the fire pit at dusk. So not-bad. So very not-bad at all.

The meatballs were lamb and pistachio from the Polpo cookbook, and the cake was a Lemon Pound Cake with Poppyseed Icing from Joy the Baker. See photo captions for more details.

Happy 50 M&D xoxo

Melissa Clark’s shrimp scampi


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“We used to like Mark Bittman, but then he became a vegetarian so now we like Melissa. Melissa Clark. She’s a nice Jewish girl from New York
and her recipes are just wonderful.” – My dad, on Monday night

On Monday evening, our dinner guests cancelled at the last minute. We called around, trying to find someone who was available to help us eat 3 pounds of Melissa Clark’s shrimp scampi at a moment’s notice, but were not successful. And that’s why we had shrimp scampi again on Wednesday.

This is the recipe my dad makes. I’m pretty sure he uses a lot more than half a cup of wine. There’s also this recipe which I modified specifically to be served with bread.

 

Eggplant with chick peas and mint chutney

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetThis is a gorgeous recipe by Melissa Clark. Flavorful and satisfying, the cilantro in the mint chutney cools and compliments it perfectly. We regretted not having any plain yogurt or sour cream on hand and will be sure to add it next time.

A simple chicken side dish was enough to placate the meat eaters. Sid had peanut butter.

• Fried Eggplant with Chickpeas and Mint Chutney •
from Melissa ClarkFor the Eggplant2 pounds baby or small Italian eggplant, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
Fine sea salt, as needed
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
1 pound ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 ¾ cups (one 15-ounce can) cookedchickpeas, drained and rinsed if canned

For the Mint Chutney
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 scallion, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice, more to taste
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
Plain yogurt, for serving (optionall)Season eggplant slices all over with salt. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat until it thins out in the pan. Add enough eggplant slices to fit in one layer without overlapping. Cook until the bottoms are browned, then flip and continue to cook until well browned and soft, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Add more oil if needed. Transfer cooked eggplant to a plate lined with paper towels, and repeat with more oil and eggplant until all the eggplant is cooked. Taste eggplant and add more salt if necessary.

Heat another tablespoon of oil in pan, then add the onions. Cook until softened and golden, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add spices and cook for 1 minute, then add tomatoes, chickpeas and 2 tablespoons water.
Partly cover the pan and let the mixture simmer until tomatoes start to break down, 10 to 15 minutes. Add eggplant to the pan and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until sauce thickens.

While the eggplant cooks, combine all the ingredients for the chutney in a blender with 2 tablespoons water. Blend until puréed, about 1 minute. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt, or both, if needed.

Serve the eggplant topped with the chutney and yogurt if you like.

We’ve been doing this thing lately

We’ve been doing this thing at the Cape lately, it’s called a cookout (or sometimes just eating-outside-not-at-a-table) and it’s awesome.

For years we’ve been setting beautiful long tables for 17 (or 25 or 30) people, and sitting down to epic, gorgeous meals. For years it’s been lovely. Lately though, it’s sometimes been not-so-lovely, because now we have toddlers.

Having precious little buggers around has a way of turning a pleasant sit-down dinner into a run around and chase your kid and try to get them to stop doing whatever horrible and/or cute but disruptive thing they’re doing dinner. Not so lovely.

So this summer we’re taking it outside, casual-style. Yeah, sometimes it takes us a while to catch on.

 

Leaving New York

Boston_IMG_3803A year ago today, I packed up my last box, gathered my family and cats, and left the city I’d called home for 14 years. I tried to smile as Shane took one last photo of us outside our very own apartment, and my heart broke right there on 78th street.

I didn’t expect heartbreak.

We’d been flirting with leaving the city for years. We considered Rhode Island, spent a day with a realtor in the suburbs of Portland, Maine, put bids on a couple of houses in Westchester.

We loathed the brutal commute we made to Cape Cod 5 months out of the year. We resented it’s potential for being under 5 hours, but somehow always taking 6 hours or more once you finally got over the bridge and found parking.

The parking! So much time spent driving around looking for parking in New York. Eventually one of us would drop the other one off with the kids, and load our stuff into the lobby and dumbwaiter. And then drive around some more, finally finding a space miles away. If we were lucky, we’d get a Thursday spot.

New York is noisy, and I don’t like noise. 8 years of calling 311 about cars honking at the intersection near our building never yielded the ‘No Honking $500 Fine Sign’ I repeatedly requested. In summer it seemed there was always a parade steps from our front door, with a singular anthem playing on repeat at maximum volume, at nap time.

There was the trash smell in summer, the bed bugs, the crowds, the lack of competence in snow. But also I loved it.

I loved my neighborhood, Jackson Heights Queens. I loved my corner store, my local coffee shop, seeing everyone at the Sunday farmer’s market, CSA pickup & compost drop off.

I loved the ease of getting around by Subway and the proximity of all Manhattan has to offer. Taking Rose home from school on the Roosevelt Island tram. I loved that I always met someone I knew on the street. I loved my apartment and our co-op garden. I loved the diversity, my family, friends, neighbors, my community.

We left it all because we needed a change. Shane’s job was making him miserable, my career was going nowhere, we needed another bathroom and more space for our growing family. So when I was offered a job here, we moved to Boston. To be precise, we moved into my childhood home in Brookline Massachusetts, with my parents.

I always admired people who had the good sense to leave New York, and would congratulate my friends as they made their escape. I figured after a few weeks in Boston, we’d wonder why we hadn’t left New York sooner. Instead I’ve spent nearly a year grieving and feeling like a complete failure.

Even though I grew up here, Boston seemed weird and alien at first. They’re so clean! Shane and I whispered, as we marveled at the impeccable personal tidiness demonstrated by our fellow Bostonians. We were in one of those chain restaurants designed to seem like it’s not a chain restaurant—a place we never would have set foot in in New York. We could never look that clean, we said. Do they shave before and after work? Whats with the excessively fancy shoes? How do you get hair to do that?

I was surprised to discover that the T is not designed to handle a lot of passengers, and that people gather by the doors leaving seats unoccupied. Unoccupied! There is a distinct lack of “man spread” but Boston never got the memo about taking off your backpack while on the train. Paying your fare is more or less an honor system at rush hour.

New York doesn’t have a reputation for being friendly, but it really is. There’s a comraderie among New Yorkers, a feeling that we’re all in it together. In New York, you could meet someone on at the playground and have a new best friend by evening. Here it takes work, I’ve had to stalk moms at the park.

I don’t want to become jaded though. There are good things about living here too. I really like my job and my co-workers are rad. My career is finally theoretically going somewhere. I might actually be able to retire one day.

My kids are developing the most wonderful relationship with my parents whom they now see every day. One of the great pleasures of living here is listening to my parents take care of Sid while I work from home on Fridays.

Brookline has wild turkeys all over the place, which I find surreal and endlessly entertaining. We can garden, and there’s a playground—albeit an often empty one—right out the back gate.

There are really cool houses here, some of them are not even on streets, they’re just behind other houses. This fascinates me. And there are walking paths everywhere. Little ways and stairways that cut between the curvy knotted streets.

We no longer think twice about hopping in the car and going somewhere, because now we have a parking spot. Cape Cod is 2 hours away with traffic. We can go every weekend. We can have dinner there on Sunday and be home by the kids’ bedtime.

Recently, I’ve started to not feel heartbroken all the time. I no longer stand with my eyes closed, brushing my teeth in my new bathroom, picturing myself in my old bathroom, and hoping that when I open them I’ll be back in my old life.

It still makes my stomach sink to look at pictures from our life in New York. I get choked up every time I have to look at a map of Manhattan at work, but I no longer have to talk myself out of taking the rest of the day off to mourn.

What Shane has been saying to me all along is that it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. He’s been right all along too, but I’m just starting to grasp that now. If we hadn’t left that life, we’d only have that life. Now we’ve had that life, and we also have this life.

I’m not sure I’ll fall in love with Boston, but we’ll be good here. We’ll be here, and little pieces of my heart will be there, right there on 78th street.

ByeHome_IMG_1483
Me, Rose, Sid, and a broken heart (or two) on the morning we left New York.
July 16, 2014.