Rose Posca

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During and after college Aaron worked as a bartender. The places he worked at ranged from good to great, and he took to the work with a single-minded enthusiasm. Need someone to explain to stir or shake a cocktail? Curious about why a drink uses this specific bitter Italian liquor and not that nearly identical bitter Italian liquor? Have an opinion about jiggering in ounces verses measuring with milliliters versus free pouring? Aaron’s your guy. We have a bookcase in our dining room that’s filled with booze. There’s ancho chili liquor and local sour cherry cordial and approximately 50 types of bitters. There’s the stuff he’s made himself like Green Tea Vodka, Hibiscus Gin, and Popcorn Rum. He collects cocktail glasses, name drops cocktail historians, and chats up local bartenders about ratios. He’s been passionate about cocktails since we were able to legally drink.

I’m not passionate about cocktails. I appreciate a well-made drink, but usually choose a Manhattan or Sidecar over a deeply imaginative confection. But passion is sexy and fascinating, and in this case it’s deeply convenient. Aaron takes care of the drinks, and I manage the food. He carefully selects the wine for date nights and I roll out the pasta. At dinner parties he’s whipping up spicy Palomas while I bring cake. He suggests the brewery to meet up with friends and I make the snacks. We sit at the bar in restaurants, Aaron chatting up the bartenders and I investigating the menus. It’s a happy pairing (pun intentional) but it has its downside. I have made perhaps five cocktails in my entire life.

That may not seem notable to you. Let me just emphasize again I have a bookcase full of booze three feet from where I write this. There is all the equipment and resources that I could need, including dozens of cocktail books. And I have no aversion or hangups about alcohol. I just don’t ever put in the effort to make my own drinks. This habit extends to non-alcoholic drinks as well. We had friends over this weekend for the afternoon. I assumed we’d drink water. Aaron whipped up jasmine-lemongrass Arnold Palmers instead.

Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I get inspired rather than lazy by Aaron’s passion. This inspiration usually manifests in non-alcoholic beverages. Have you heard about posca ? It’s an ancient Roman drink, essentially vinegar, water, herbs, and perhaps sweeteners. There’s no known recipe, and the exact proportions have been lost to history. But I love the idea of it- tart brightness from vinegar, honey for sweetness, herbs to keep things interesting. It’s lemonade before lemonade, a refreshing summer drink.

For this posca I took a hint from my bartender husband and instead of honey made a rose syrup. The syrup is simple, floral, and brilliantly pink. I mixed it with apple cider vinegar (because apples and roses are botanically related. Science!), water, and ice. The drink is beautiful, ended up a pale shade of millennial pink and with a lovely, light blend of sweet and tart. It’s, as they say at my work, extremely quaffable. I’ve been drinking it in the sun while reading a master’s newest book and hiding from this terrifying news. If you need a spot of sunshine (and I certainly do), this rose posca performs admirably.

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Rose Posca

Dried rose petals can be found at health food stores and co-ops (mine sells them in the medicine section) as well as some spice stores. The formula I give here is to my taste. Feel free to play with the levels of vinegar, syrup, and water to make your house version of posca.

Serves 1

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dried rose petals
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In a small saucepan combine the sugar with the rose petals and 1/2 cup water. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring once in a while to dissolve. Once the sugar is dissolved, set the syrup aside and let the rose petals steep. I found 2 hours gave me the strong rose presence I wanted, but if you have less time the syrup tastes of rose after 15 minutes. Strain into a clean jar. Refrigerate if not using right away.

To make the posca, combine 1 cup of water, the apple cider vinegar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the rose syrup in a glass with ice. Stir well. Drink in the sun.

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White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato from “A Modern Way to Cook”

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A week ago I was having a relaxing morning before work. You know the routine. Make yourself breakfast. Eat breakfast while sipping caffeine of choice. Do both while checking on blogs. Accidentally spill caffeine of choice on your computer.

Oops.

That was painful. I hadn’t planned for a new computer, and there were a lot of files on that old computer that weren’t saved anywhere else. And without wanting to inflate my own importance, I would argue that it’s painful for you. Because I had a recipe for you that I only get to share just now. And it’s filled with all sorts of good stuff. Specifically, beans, fennel, lemon, and tomato.

These beans come from Anna Jones‘ new book A Modern Way to Cook. I’m slightly obsessed with Anna Jones’ work. Her first book, A Modern Way to Eat is one of my most used cookbooks, and for good reason. She writes smart recipes that are clever without being precious. It’s hard to flip through the pages of her books without being inspired. She brings a cook’s eye to presentation and plays with form and texture. But she doesn’t forget that food should be delicious and nourishing and it needs to be approachable. That’s a message I appreciate in any cookbook, but especially in a vegetarian cookbook that promotes healthy eating.

Her new book is divided not by meals or seasons, but by time commitment. I found these beans labeled as a 25 minute dinner, and immediately had to make them. I love the sweetness that comes from the fennel and honey, the tang from the lemons and vinegar, and the savory notes from the garlic and spices. It truly comes together in 25 minutes (maybe even faster), which means it’s great for spur of the moment dinner decisions (aka, the only kind I have). And I love that you get something hearty and earthy and rich without any esoteric ingredients, or convoluted technique.

It’s a fantastic dinner. And I can’t wait to cook obsessively through this book.

White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato

adapted from A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones

Serves 4

Anna calls for canned lima beans in her original recipe. I have never seen canned lima beans, and so I made mine with Great Northern beans, which were delicious. Anna suggests accompanying this with a green salad or some flatbread, but Aaron and I devoured it with some runny cheese and crusty sourdough.

1 large fennel bulb
2 tablespoons of olive oil
bunch of green onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 lemon, quartered and seeds removed
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 fourteen ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
fennel fronds, for serving
olive oil, for serving

Cut off the fronds of the fennel and set aside. Cut the bulb in half and trim it. Peel off any tough or bruised outer layers, then slice the fennel into half inch slices.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil it hot, add the fennel, making sure to spread it out so all the fennel makes contact with the oil. Sautée until it’s browning on one side (between 2-4 minutes) then flip, either with tongs or a spatula to the other side. Sautée again until browning, then add the green onions and garlic. Let cook until fragrant, a couple more minutes.

Add the tomatoes and lemon, then add the honey, vinegar, oregano, fennel seed, chilis, and salt. Stir well and let it all heat together for a minute, then add the beans and 1/2 cup of water. Stir again, and then let the whole thing simmer away until the beans are warmed through, about five minutes.

Serve warm, topped with the leafy bits of the fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas and Paprika

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What do you make for dinner when you pair a vegetarian, a Celiac, and a few girls who would be perfectly happy with chili dogs and a side of cheetos?

The first time I made this eggplant stew was two years ago. A month after Aaron and I got married I decided to have some high school friends over for dinner. Just before the wedding we had moved to Illinois and into a new apartment, and during the most chaotic month of my life we entertained exactly zero times. I was eager to show off our new place with all its gleaming hardwood floors and large windows. There were new pots and pans and knives to use, and it had been some time since I had lived in the same state as these friends. It was an occasion for celebration. And like any celebration there was a carefully chosen menu.

Nothing too strange, nothing too foreign, but something ultimately delicious and satisfying. For our main I made a smokey eggplant stew, deciding that there was nothing too terrifying about eggplant. There was a kale salad of baby kale and baby grapes, an adorable combination that quashed any qualms about eating kale, an attempt at an acceptable cake that did not work out, and some maple grilled peaches that did. Aaron had been at work, but arrived in time for dessert and mixed cocktails for those of us who drank. I made popcorn after dinner. There were games. We ended up with surprise overnight guests sleeping on our old leather couches. The next morning I convinced the kale-phobic to drink a kale smoothie for breakfast and we lingered over caffeine and kale for hours. The only leftovers were the disappointment of the cake.

It’s a night, exceptional in its ordinary joy, that I remember often. It’s the sort of nights I like to celebrate with friends as often as possible, even though I again live in a different state of these friends. It’s a night that serves as a talesman for the power of food to connect us, and the ways that sharing a meal can be like sharing ourselves.

I’ve made this stew as a souvenir a few times. This stew was a godsend. It’s the type of thing I like to eat late summer, getting to use the last of summer’s produce without pretending like it doesn’t cool down at night. It’s smokey and meaty from the paprika and eggplants and slightly sweet, slightly tart from the tomatoes and pepper. It’s not quite ratatouille, but could be kissing cousins. And the taste is so much more complex than it should from the cooking time. It’s a beautiful sort of meal to share with the people you love.

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Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas and Paprika

I find this stew makes a filling meal, but if you’d like a bit more heft (or to stretch it further) it’s delicious over a bed of brown rice.

adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium eggplants (about a pound and a half), chopped into small cubes
1 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 roma tomatoes, quartered, deseeded, and chopped
1 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
chopped parsley, to serve

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the eggplant, stirring every few minutes until golden in color, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile warm a dutch oven or other good-sized pot over medium heat. Add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the onion, pepper, and paprika, and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and pepper are starting to soften. Add in the garlic. Cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Add in the tomato paste and stir well. Cook for another minute or so, then add a tablespoon or two of water. Stir well, being careful to scrape up any dark bits on the bottom of the pot.

Add in the tomatoes, chickpeas, cooked eggplant, 2 cups of water, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a rolling simmer and cover. Cook, uncovering and stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have collapsed and are stew-y in texture, about 30 minutes.

Taste and adjust for seasoning, and serve hot topped with a lot of chopped parsley.

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Sautéed Dates + Seattle

What’s the point of vacation? It’s expensive. It’s often difficult to come by the time, especially here in the United States. Going on vacation can be complicated, with multiple moving parts and elaborate logistics. It’s unfortunately easy to put off, deciding that instead of going through all the fuss you can treat yourself nicer in your own place. There are many, many reasons to put off going on vacation. But once you’ve talked yourself into doing it after a long vacation-dry spell, and you arrive, and you walk on new streets and breathe air that feels different than the air at home. You eat new food and meet new people and see new sites and you exhale. Because the point of vacation isn’t so much the going as the being.

Seattle, with its looming mountains and vast expanse of water, was beautiful. It felt possible but not quite probable that there are people who actually live there- people who have thirty plus foot pines in their backyards, who commute to work on ferries, who hike up and down the hills to run their daily errands. It’s a very different background to daily life from my lovely but admittedly flat Midwest. If Minneapolis is Miss Congeniality, Seattle is the pageant queen.

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Aaron and I primarily explored Seattle the way we’ve come to prefer- on foot. At 26, neither of us have ever rented a car. That may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask. Instead we got from the airport to our AirB&B via the light rail and some on-foot trecking. It takes up time, and energy, but there’s a way that you understand a place by walking that you simply can’t get by driving. I’ll take inconvenience of walking any day.

But we did explore by car when we couldn’t walk to our destination. At the exact midpoint of our vacation we woke up early (for restaurant people) and packed up the car my cousin Danielle loaned us, then drove south. We went down the interstate, then the state highway, then a country road, until we were at the wooden gates of Mount Raineer National Park. And then we drove a further half hour through switchbacks, over stone lined creeks, in the golden shade of evergreens, and occasionally at the edge of cliffs before reaching our destination- Paradise.

I’ve scarcely seen a place more aptly named than Paradise. Over a mile above sea level, we were well below the tree line and the towering summit of Mount Raineer, but were quite possibly higher than I’ve ever been outside of an airplane. The stop was full of meadows, with flowers in bloom, and waterfalls. We hiked around on the lower elevation trails for an hour, and were humiliated by being passed by seniors using canes. I felt much less prepared than the hikers with alpine poles, and backpacking gear, but somewhat more prepared than the woman wearing wedges and a maxi dress.

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The peace was astonishing. We had no signal or coverage, which was both frustrating (if you don’t Instagram it, did it really happen? and all that) and liberating. There is something to be said for simply being there, in the calm, with the nature in all its majesty and terror. It was a privilege to be in the mountains. As we drove away back through the switchbacks and rocks and trees we decided that over the course of our marriage we wanted to visit every national park. For whatever our flaws, America is beautiful.

When we weren’t hiking mountains we could be found eating and drinking, because that’s what we make (much) of our money in and we love it. From handmade pho noodles in the ID (International District, which seems like a more appropriate name than Chinatown, which we also heard it called) to woodfired pizza in Ballard, from a different coffee shop every morning to afternoon beers in local breweries, we had them all. Here are some of our favorites.

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Canon
We drank here the day after our anniversary in celebration. There were hundreds of whiskeys stored everywhere, fog machines used to create drinks, and a vintage radio mystery program playing in the bathroom. We had made reservations, and a good thing too. When we tried to go again (because the drinks were that good) without reservations we couldn’t get in.

Rumba
Rumba had the best tiki drinks I’ve ever tasted with just the right amount of kitch. The walls were covered not in paint or wallpaper but in vintage tropical post cards, and the seats were turquoise leather. It would have been an easy place to love even without the killer piña coladas and daiquiris.

Starbuck Reserve Roastery
Touristy, but fascinating. You can choose from a variety of ways to make your coffee here, or do a side by side tasting. One of the walls bore a story of searching for beans, which ended with the line “It may be a labor of love. But it’s mostly love.” As cheesy as it is, I’ve adapted it as my new mantra.

Delancey and Essex
For crisp but not cracker-y woodfire pizza, for bourbon peaches, for before dinner drinks of mezcal, blackberry, and honey (me) and side by side Americano tastings (Aaron), Delancey was the neighborhood spot everyone should be so lucky to have.

Dong Thap
We found this place because the our neighbor at the pizza bar in Delancey recommended it, and afterwards I was so upset we couldn’t go to every place he listed. Dong Thap is that killer. Pho with housemade noodles, everyone. The broth was rich and savory and the noodles were perfectly chewy. I had only had pho once before, a sad specimen that turned me off to it for years. Thanks to Dong Thap I’ve seen the error of my ways.

General Porpoise
A chef-y donut shop that sells donuts, caffeine, and champaign. All of the donuts are yeasted and filled, and all of them are excellent. This is the only place our whole trip we visited twice, because I couldn’t get over their housemade chai (it was made with saffron!)

The Whale Wins
We celebrated our anniversary here, in the bright and cheerful space. The food was incredible-pickled raisins! Halibut butter on sourdough! Roast carrots and fennel with harissa and yogurt! We had a long, luxurious evening here, topped off with two desserts and champaign. The blueberry shortbread with crème fraîche ice cream was delicious, but it was the sautéed dates that really killed it. They were satin-y in texture, and tasted of caramel. I would have ordered them twice if I had known how good they were- once as a starter and once as a dessert. Because I didn’t, and because I missed this space I’ve brought back the recipe for you as a gift.

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Sautéed Dates

adapted from The Whale Wins, with guidance from A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus by Renee Erickson

This is more a template than a recipe, and like all templates relies best on you paying attention and using your judgement. I bought some lovely “fresh” dried dates (the sort that are already wrinkled and brown, but are soft and stored in the produce cooler) to make this recipe, and they were luscious and silky, the sautéed sides shattering like a shell when we bit into them. But as an experiment I also tried this with some withered old dried dates, and they loosened up with the heat. They did not have the same luxurious texture, but the taste was more intense. All this is to say, whatever you have is good with this recipe.

Olive oil
Dates (I used Medjool dates for both tests)
Flaked salt such as Maldon

In a heavy skillet warm a slip of olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is warm place your dates into the oil. Watch and listen carefully, and don’t walk away. Once you start to smell sugar rotate your dates with tongs and place it gently on the other side. It should take about 30 seconds to a minute for the first side to be done. Rotate again to a third side once the second smells of caramel, and then let the dates sit for another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and place the dates onto a serving tray. Sprinkle with salt. If you want to be dramatic with the presentation you could drizzle the used olive oil over the dates, but that’s not necessary. Eat while warm.

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Gazpacho

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Hello from beautiful Seattle! Aaron and I are here for the week as we embark on our first ever grown-up vacation alone. It’s pretty pathetic that it took us this long, since we’ve been married for 2 years now and together for almost 8. And yes, if you’re doing the mental math, that means that we did not take a honeymoon, but that’s a story for another time. My plan for this week is to walk until we’re hungry, eat until full, then repeat. Aaron’s plan is to hit up an extensive list of cocktail bars. I think we’ll more than exceed our expectations.

It feels a bit strange to be writing all this now because… I’m not in Seattle yet. I’ve decided to make this a computer-free vacation and try out this fancy, futuristic Schedule Post function that WordPress has. I’m writing this Saturday night while the laundry is working and my nails are drying, and we’re flying out early Sunday morning. By the time this goes live we’ll have been in Seattle three days. We’ll definitely have had our anniversary dinner at The Whale Wins, and I’ll have worn the intimidatingly sexy dress I bought for the occasion. Aaron’s absolutely going to have drank the carbonated negronis at Dino’s Tomato Pie. I hopefully will have kept my vow that we’ll hit up a different coffee shop every morning, and gorged myself on cherries. Aaron will likely be trying to persuade me to move to Seattle. I’m more relaxed than I’ve been all month just thinking about it all.

I plan to return here next week with plenty of pictures and a recipe or two inspired by our trip. But for now I’m here with gazpacho.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t even know cold soup was a thing until I was an adult. It took working in restaurants that until I tried cold soup. Before I tried it cold soup just felt wrong, like hot ice cream. The purpose of soup was to be warming and fortifying. Why would you want it cold? Cold soup contradicted the reasons of its existence.

But experience makes fools of us all. After trying cold soup, I learned it make sense for hot summer days when you need to be fortified in a completely different way. Not only that but I actually liked the thing. Light and bright on the tongue, cold soup is centering on a steamy day. And in the spirit of these steamy August days that just won’t quit (no matter how many times I wear jeans in protest, only to surrender and change a few hours later) I offer this gazpacho recipe.

Gazpacho is easy. Chop up the vegetables, blend them up, season and add oil, and chill. It comes together in less than five minutes, which makes it excellent for those hot mornings when you know you won’t want to cook dinner. The salt and sherry vinegar are needed for those days when you’ve sweat so hard you just need some salt and acid in your food, but they’re not aggressive. You taste the tomatoes and the cucumber and the onion and pepper and garlic, and they all meld into something better than the sum of it’s parts.  It’s a smooth, balanced soup that goes down easier the hotter it gets. I’d get on this now, if I were you- we may not have many scorching days left. 

Gazpacho

You could use any tomato you like for this gazpacho. I used Roma tomatoes, because they’re relatively inexpensive and still flavorful. Different tomatoes have different acidity levels, so you may need to adjust the amount of sherry vinegar you add. 

Serves 4

Adapted from The New York Times

2 pounds Roma tomatoes, quartered and hard centers removed
1 medium cucumber, roughly chopped
1 banana pepper or other sweet frying pepper, stemed and seeds removed, roughly chopped
1 small sweet onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup good olive oil, plus more as necessary

In a blender combine the tomatoes, cucumber, banana pepper, onion, and garlic. Start the blender on low and blend until it’s all a liquid, then switch the blender onto high and blend until it’s all smooth. Add the sherry vinegar and salt, and blend again. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary.

With the blender on medium slowly pour in the olive oil. The gazpacho should get darker and thicker as you add the olive oil. After you add half a cup of olive oil, stop the motor of the blender and check the gazpacho. It should be slightly thick, like the consistency of a vinaigrette. If it’s not there yet, add more olive oil by the tablespoon with the motor running.

Transfer the gazpacho to a glass container. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for at least six hours, or overnight. Serve cold, preferably in a glass, drizzled with olive oil.

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