Recipes. Words. Whatever.

Just making it up as I go along

Pho, with a side of story.

pho for blog

“And how are things?” I ask as we sit at our table for two.

“Fine,” he says. “You?”

Ours is an occasional relationship that has lasted a decade.

“Same, same.” I look at the menu. It hasn’t changed since the last time we met.

“Except my hair is long, and yours is short,” he says. We laugh.

“You ready to order?” the waiter asks.

Regretting that I forgot to look at the menu in advance, I insist my friend order first. He orders Sweet & Spicy Fried Rice. I’m torn between the Vietnamese Duck Noodle Soup and the Pho, so I ask the waiter, “Which do you recommend?”

“Oh,” the waiter says, “everybody love the Pho.”

The waiter sets the Pho in front of me, and next to it, a plate with Thai basil leaves and cilantro, cut lime, a red and green Thai chili pepper, and bean sprouts. I lower my face to the bowl, breathe in the aromatics and steam.

“How’s work?” my friend asks.

White rice noodles swim in a golden broth dotted with red and green onions, black and red pepper. Tips of well-marbled beef poke through like ice burgs, teasing the richness and depth below. I dip my spoon into the broth and bring it to my lips. It is slightly sweet, slightly tart, with earthy undertones of cinnamon and star anise.

“Good,” I say, putting the spoon down to squeeze lime juice into the bowl. I watch it river through and around the tiny droplets of fat that shimmer on the surface, then tear the basil leaves into small pieces and add them along with chili peppers and bean sprouts. “You?”

“Did I tell you I’m teaching?” he asks.

I pick up my chopsticks, give everything a swirl and dig in — the first bite an even mix of velvety soft noodles and beef, which is simmered to tender perfection, with three bold rings of scallion.

“Nice.” I say, wiping the broth that has dripped down my chin. “Adjunct?”

“Full time. Have been for two years.”

“Oh my, has it been that long…?” I notice gray where there used to be just brown.

We relate the what, when and where of time passed and options for tomorrow as I, politely as I can, work at my soup. We’re both of an age when Chapter Twos are imminent.

When the noodles and beef are gone and we’ve run out of talk, I set down my chopsticks and say, “Pardon me,” then bring the bowl to my lips. What’s left is an ocean of goodness and warmth that I happily drink in.

When we are done, he pays, though I protest, and we walk out to the parking lot, hug, and say what we always say.

“Let’s not wait another year or two, let’s do this again sooner. “

“Yes, lets.”

Hanoi Beef Noodle Soup (Pho)

Adapted from Nina Simonds recipe, in Asian Noodles

Step 1: Make the beef stock. (Or, you can, like I did today, because the sun is shining and the dog needs walking, skip this step and use Pacific’s Organic Beef Pho soup starter. If you do, you may want to add a star anise, a bit of ginger, and a cinnamon stick or two, bring to boil, then go to step 2.)

Bring 4 lbs. of beef shinbones or oxtails, 16 cups water, 4 thinly sliced shallots, 1-inch peeled and sliced chunk of ginger, 6 star anise, and 2 cinnamon sticks to boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 1-½ hours, skimming any impurities and fat from the surface.

(You can reduce the above ingredients by 1/4th if you don’t want to cook for six. Same with instructions that follow.)

Strain the broth into another large pot and remove meat from the bones, cutting into thin slices. Discard bones and stock seasonings. Skim fat from surface again. Add a dash of fish sauce plus black pepper. Keep warm over low heat.

 Step 2: While broth is simmering, cook the rice noodles

6 oz., according to package directions, then drain.

 Step 3:Turn broth into soup

Add 2 cups rinsed and drained bean sprouts plus ½ pound beef sirloin, cut into thin slices to soup. Bring to boil for a minute or two, until beef is no longer pink. Skim the surface again if needed.

Step 4: Slurp time

Garnish with minced scallions, minced cilantro and Thai basil leaves,sliced Thai chili or jalapeno pepper, and lime wedges. Slurp away. Perhaps with a glass or two of Sake.

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Meet my friends: Clutter, Chaos and Mess.

Most of us have met her. The woman who plastic-wraps her sofa. Or makes you take off your shoes at her door. People whom, like Mary Tyler Moore’s character in Ordinary People, can’t handle mess.

I’m not one of those people. Rarely will my plate contain a meat and two sides, sitting politely side-by-side. No, no, no, I say, “Let the piles overlap, the gravy run into the green beans, and the crumbs fall where they may.”

We had a pomegranate tree in our front yard when I was in fifth grade. So my fondness for that mystical fruit runs deep. But, rather than just slicing them open to devour the sweet arils inside, my sisters and I would also throw them at each other. The great Pomegranate wars. We thought they were a riot. Our mother, not so much.

Cezanne said, “We live in a rainbow of chaos.”pom saladI live that, worshiping at the altar of mix, toss, mingle. I like to blur the lines between people, objects and things. Throw it all in a pot or casserole or bowl or blender and see what it becomes. Moroccan, Mexican, Thai, whatever. Bring it all on. There’s beauty in that chaos. Don’t worry about cultural appropriation. Think of it as cultural evolution.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to stick your fingers deep into the pomegranate to pick out each and every seed. The juice doesn’t really stain — your fingers, anyway.

pom arils

Fall salad with red quinoa, roasted sweet potato and chickpeas, avocado, pistachio, feta, and pomegranate.

The steps:

Before autumn ends and winter begins, take a long walk and marvel at the mix of red and yellow and orange leaves. Then go home and roast cubed sweet potato or butternut squash in olive oil and a spice mix at 375 for 30 minutes. (I chose turmeric, cumin, chipotle powder and salt and pepper.)

At the 20-minute mark, add some cooked chick peas, also doused in olive oil and spice mix.

While the vegetables are roasting, cook a pot of quinoa, de-aril your pomegranate, and prepare an oil and vinegar dressing. You may choose any kind you like. I mixed equal parts pumpkin seed and Persian lime olive oils with fig balsamic vinegar, and a touch of salt and pepper.

When the quinoa and roasted vegetables are done, toss them onto a bed of fresh spinach and top with diced avocado, pomegranate arils, feta (I’m partial to sheep’s milk), pistachios, and a drizzle of your dressing.

Red onion would be nice, too. Alas, I had none.

What is comfort, anyway?

The red plaid flannel shirt with the frayed hem, appropriated from the architect boyfriend who was11 years older and infinite ways more advanced.

Lucy, the sock monkey that went to camp, college, and apartment after apartment, and who sits, one arm missing, next to the alarm clock today.

Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah.

Late night viewings of Gaslight, Cat Ballou, and Fiddler on the Roof on the 1970-something Magnavox console television with your Dad — your infant daughter on your lap or his belly — during what you didn’t know then would be the last year of his life.

Sitting between a 93 year-old woman and your 10-year old daughter, making paper flowers at the Jewish Home on Mitzvah Day.

Watching Princess Buttercup drift down into Fezzik’s arms while snuggled with said daughter and your small menagerie on the couch over Christmas break.

When Sunday morning stretches into Sunday afternoon, and the only things begging attention are the New York Times Book Review and crossword puzzle, and a few short story collections and recipe books.

90-minute phone calls with your sister, even though you hate talking on the phone.

Your dog’s endless smile, as you stroll together through Mt. Hope Cemetery.

A letter from a friend you knew years and lifetimes ago. Long, but never lost.

The last word of the last sentence on the last page of a good novel or short story.

The text that reads, “Landed.”

Risotto on a cold, damp day — or any day, for that matter.

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Risotto with roasted fennel, zucchini, garlic, onion and tomatoes, and fresh tarragon

Part 1:

Roast your preferred vegetables and aromatics in olive oil and salt and pepper in 350° oven for a half hour. (You could certainly sauté them, but for coaxing the full, rich sweet flavor of anything, nothing beats roasting.)

Part 2.

Melt a tablespoon or two of butter with a tablespoon or two of olive oil in sturdy pot.

Add a cup or two of Arborio rice and stir a few minutes.

Add ½ to 1 cup of dry white wine and stir on high till liquid starts to bubble and disappear into the rice.

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Add chicken broth ½ cup at a time, letting it almost evaporate before adding the next. (Figure on double the amount of rice. 1 cup rice, 2 -3 cups broth/wine.)

 Daydream, listen to the radio, try to solve the world’s problems, sip wine, whatever — as long as you keep stirring.

When you add the final ½ cup of broth into the pot, add the roasted vegetables as well. And, you know the drill, keep stirring till the liquid is nothing but a thin veil.

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Add 1/2 to 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the freshly cut tarragon and fennel frond, then turn off the heat, cover, and let sit a minute or two.

Part 3:

When ready to eat, pour another glass of white wine, sprinkle with more cheese and herbs, and let the toothy, rich earthiness penetrate your soul.

To nurture your brain as well, consider tossing in baked or roasted salmon at the last minute.

Welcome.

She stared at me with the same resolve as when she vowed to sell the most Girl Scout cookies in Troop #309, and did. Crossed her arms, stood as resolute as when she’d said, I’m not eating meat. Not playing violin. Not going to High Holiday Services.

I looked at the carrots and butternut squash I was dicing into much smaller pieces than the roasting pan wanted.

She was, after all, just 21 — with degrees in English and Political Science, two thousand dollars in savings, and no job.

She crossed her arms, leant back against the counter. “The time is right. I am moving to New York in three weeks. I need you to support me in this.”
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Believe me, I did. Want to. Support her.

But, tossing the vegetables in olive oil and Five Spice Powder then putting them in the oven to roast, I wondered, what if entry-level positions in advertising or market research or public relations no longer existed?  What if, come January or February, there was no more food in her cupboards, money in her bank account, or hustle in her DNA?

“I will make pots of soup that last a week,” she said.

The onions and garlic, fresh from the farmer’s market, stung my eyes. She, who on weekend mornings still said, “Make me eggs Mommy,” was going to make soup.

I let the aromatics saute in butter in a large stock pot until translucent, then added the roasted vegetables and broth and brought it all to a boil, then let it simmer, let it do its thing.

“I need to do this,” she said.

When she was five, on her first day of summer camp, I watched her wave through the window of the bus as it pulled away from the Jewish Community Center. Saw uncertainty in her eyes, fragility in her fingers, children on the way to Auschwitz.

“I need to find my life,” she said. “And it’s not here.”

I looked at the scars on my hands and wrists, wondered what scars she would amass, hoped most would fade, or strengthen her skin like Kevlar.

My daughter’s been working in the city almost a year now, though she’s yet to make soup. And that’s OK. We continue to grow, together but apart — she in her way, me in mine.

Welcome October, welcome to new adventures, welcome to my blog.

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Based on recipe in the Williams-Sonoma cookbook, Soup of the Day

Roasted Five Spice Squash & Carrot Soup

Peel and cube butternut squash, and dice carrots. Size doesn’t really matter, as long as they’re all similar.

Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper,  and a healthy sprinkling of Five Spice Powder.

Roast in 350 oven until they start to get that caramelized goodness. (About 30 minutes.)

Saute a small onion and 3 cloves garlic in 2 tablespoons butter.

When translucent, add chicken broth (homemade if you have it),

the roasted vegetables, and a little more Five Spice Powder.

Bring to a boil, then cover loosely and simmer for 20 or so minutes.

For a little crunch, roast the butternut squash seeds and sprinkle on top.