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appetite

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So somehow in the middle of my recent spate of 50-hour work weeks, I managed to get pregnant again. No burying the lede this time, I’m just putting it right out here, and letting you all know that baby number two is set to join us in October, a month after Julian’s second birthday. We’re thrilled of course, though my tiredness has reached a whole new level, and my appetite, to my chagrin, is all but gone these days.

I had no such trouble eating throughout my first pregnancy. My first trimester nausea was just mildly bothersome, and I had no real morning sickness to speak of. I ate well and often: lots of fruit and fish, big salads and eggs and nuts by the handful. Indian food, Mexican food, any kind of spicy food – bring it on. Just about everything tasted great, and physically, I felt better than I had in years.

But things are different this time around – not drastically so, just enough to throw me for a loop. I feel a little bit queasier, a little more fatigued than I remember being last time, and I just don’t have much of an appetite. For anything. Frustrating for many, but downright maddening for a typically food-fixated sort like myself.

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It doesn’t help that I feel guilty about not eating. I’m building a baby, after all.

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I’m in a lull between trials right now, and my schedule has cleared up a bit. Mike has taken on the lion’s share of dinner prep in recent weeks, between my work commitments and lack of interest in eating, but I was eager to get back in the kitchen over the weekend, even though I had no clue what to make for us. Inspiration came, as it often does these days, via Pinterest, and a beautiful panade from Emily of Five and Spice. Since I’ve been able to reliably keep down bread and cheese, and we had a fresh batch of rich chicken stock in the fridge, it seemed like a good bet.

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So I headed into the kitchen yesterday afternoon while Julian napped and Mike took care of some things around the apartment, and I sliced onions and trimmed chard, grated cheese and massaged stale bread. I sauteed the greens and alliums in batches, built some layers and moistened them with stock, then I set my covered pan in a low oven to bake for a good long while.

And then I put my feet up.

The three of us sat down to eat together as the sun set, something I have missed more than anything else over the last few months, and as I watched the boys tucking into their respective portions, I was happy that at least they were enjoying their meal. I still wasn’t sure if I would. But I took a spoonful from my own bowl, satiny greens and wobbly bread, the aroma of stock and cheese and onions set aloft on a pocket of steam, and I closed my eyes as I took it into my mouth. I took another bite, and another, and another, and soon, my belly was as full as my heart felt.

Bits and Pieces

confetti

Part of getting back to the business of living, getting through the grief we’ve been feeling in this last week, has been to make plans, to reinstitute some structure in our lives. I sketched out a meal plan last weekend for this week’s dinners, with Monday’s ratatouille, and Tuesday’s comforting tortellini en brodo, with leafy greens swimming in the rich chicken stock Mike made earlier that day. Wednesday’s dinner plans got derailed early on, the result of some unexpected schedule changes, but I felt confident that I could put something together when I got home from work.

chard and chile

I had picked up some beautiful broccoli at last Saturday’s farmers’ market with the hopes of turning it into a batch of my friend Maria‘s Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli and serving it over farro, but when I pulled it out of the crisper it was long gone. My fall-back-and-punt had turned into a failure before I even got started, but I didn’t want to cave and order takeout – I wanted to cook a good, wholesome dinner at home. So I pulled out the chard I was saving to use in soup later in the week, carved it up in my usual manner, and sauteed it with olive oil, good, meaty anchovies, plenty of garlic and slivers of fresh red chile peppers.

Dinner: September 22, 2010

I tossed it all with just-cooked farro linguine, added a shower of parm, and dinner was served. And it was only today that I realized that I made nearly the same simple, comforting dish about 2 1/2 years before.

Fading

Narragansett Creamery ricotta

It was 33 degrees out when I left for work this morning. In the dark. In my full-length down coat. 33. People. I am not ready for this. One of the things we love most about New England is the fall, and I feel like it’s almost behind us, whizzing past like the vibrant foliage as I head home on the train in the evening, in the dark.

rainbow chard

The change of seasons is always difficult for me physically, and this rapid drop in temperatures, the cold and damp, is particularly hard. I have no energy and I ache right to my core, and of course, I’m reacting by taking on Projects in the kitchen. Like these gnudi.

ricotta and chard

The last time I made gnudi was far too long ago, and since we have some of the best darned ricotta around, I figured it was high time I worked with it in this application.

Dinner:  October 19, 2009

I treated the ricotta much like I did in my most recent batch of ricotta gnocchi, draining it and beating it until fluffy, then incorporating chopped cooked chard, a beaten egg, salt, pepper, lemon zest, grated parm, and flour. I rolled out two dozen little dumplings, cooked them in plenty of boiling salted water until they bobbed to the top, then sauced them with a zippy lemon and thyme-infused butter, finishing them with crunchy little lemon-thyme breadcrumbs. It was, perhaps, a little fussy for a weeknight dish, but it was totally worth it, a welcome bright spot in an otherwise dreary day.

Lentils + Chard + Egg

lentils and chard

So you know that old worn out sweater that you just can’t seem to part with though it’s pilled and a little frayed at the edges, because it’s soft and warm and always makes you feel cozy? That’s what this dish is to me.

Dinner:  September 28, 2009

Lentils and shallot, glazed with olive oil, then cooked gently in a mix of water and dry red wine. A pile of chard cooked in my usual way, stems shaved thin and sauteed with garlic, chile flakes, the soft leaves wilted in and the whole thing hit with a shot of Sherry vinegar at the end. And the egg, fried in olive oil until the edges crisp, laid gently on top of the pile of chard and lentils, a sprinkle of Piment d’Espelette salt scattered over before serving. It’s a little brown, not the sort of thing you’d necessarily feed to company, but it’s the sort of simple, tasty supper I’ve come to really love.

An old fave, updated

As I’ve mentioned here before, I was a vegetarian for seven years, from the age of 14 until sometime during my 21st year. My parents were supportive, though Mom’s rule was that she was still going to make one thing for dinner, and if I couldn’t cobble together enough of a meal for myself from what she was serving, I’d have to do my own cooking. I guess it makes sense that I really started to develop my kitchen skills during that time.

I got myself a copy of the Moosewood cookbook, of course, but the book that some of my favorite recipes came from was Diet for a Small Planet. There was a casserole in there that I absolutely loved, and for a while I think I made it weekly. It was great fresh from the oven, but just as tasty at room temp for a meal on the fly, and it combined favorite foods like rice and cheese with the exotic-to-me-then Swiss chard, which would become one of my staples.

cheesy mushroom+chard casserole

Heidi’s recent post about her favorite mushroom casserole reminded me of that recipe, and though my well-worn copy of Diet has long since disappeared, I thought I’d improvise, combining elements of that old casserole recipe with some from Heidi’s dish. Besides, I had a big bag of beautiful Wishing Stone mushrooms just begging to be used up, and mushrooms and chard are one of my favorite pairings.

I stemmed the mushrooms and chopped both stems and caps into chunky pieces, then sautéed them in a mix of butter and olive oil until they were browned and tender, adding a bit of salt and dried marjoram for seasoning. When the mushrooms were nearly done, I added my chard, cooking the thinly sliced stems for a few minutes first before adding the shredded leafy ends.

pearled barley

I wanted something a little heartier than rice as the base for the dish, so I cooked up about a cup of pearled barley until it was tender but slightly underdone. I wasn’t quite sure what to do about the creamy base, since we had neither cottage cheese nor sour cream in the fridge, so I added 8 oz. of cream cheese into the still-warm barley, along with an egg beaten with about a half-cup of heavy cream. I added a cup or so of really sharp cheddar, grated, reserving a bit more for the top of the casserole. I folded everything together until the cream cheese was melted and the mixture well combined, then set it aside.

Dinner: December 15, 2008

At this point I added the creamy barley mixture to the mushrooms and chard, and stirred until the veggies were pretty evenly distributed throughout. I figured I’d bake the whole thing right in the iron skillet I had cooked the veggies in, so I smoothed out the top, sprinkled on the remainder of my grated cheddar, gave it a dusting of freshly grated parm for good measure, then covered it with foil and put it in the oven. I baked it at 400 for 20 minutes or so, then removed the foil and let it go for another 10. We had a simple salad of tender young leaves on the side with a perky Meyer lemon vinaigrette, which complemented the earthy casserole nicely.

Oysterific

I’ll admit, I’m having a hard time concentrating on meals this week – with the exception of the one big one planned for Thursday. Our last few weekends of food safari have left me with a very well stocked fridge, freezer and pantry, and I have lots of beautiful raw materials to work with, but with my focus largely elsewhere, coming up with interesting ways to cook them has been a bit of a challenge.

Wishing Stone Farm has, in addition to some of the best eggs we’ve ever eaten, absolutely gorgeous produce, and we tend to load up on goodies from their stand at the Hope High market on Saturdays. They were among the last vendors there this past weekend, the last day of the season, and we loaded up in advance of the holiday and in preparation for the break before the Wintertime market begins.

Among the things that caught my eye were these beautiful oyster mushrooms, and though I had no idea what I’d do with them, I knew I wanted to feature them in our meatless Monday dinner this week. I had a big bag of rainbow chard from Wishing Stone as well, which I thought would make a good foil for the mushrooms, but I didn’t want to do another pasta or risotto. So I decided on another favorite fallback – creamy corn grits, rich with butter and plenty of grated cheese melted in (this time, the last of our Narragansett Creamery Blackstone).

Dinner:  November 24, 2008

The chard was sautéed in a bit of chile-spiked oil until wilted, and I decided to do something a little different with the mushrooms, tearing them into big pieces, tossing them gently with salt and a light drizzle of olive oil, and roasting them on a sheet pan until they were caramelized and a little crisp at the edges. I sprinkled a little fresh thyme on the mushrooms at the end, and added them to deep bowls on top of the grits and chard. And I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t crown the whole thing with one of those fabulous Wishing Stone eggs, this time cooked sunny-side up in a bit of olive oil.

The roasted mushrooms, as I had hoped, were the stars of the meal – they retained their delicate texture but developed a concentrated earthy flavor that was really delicious. Full as we were at the end of our meal, I think we would both have made room for more mushrooms, and I can’t wait to play with this preparation again for future dishes.

Burning Love

I’ve been completely dazzled by the array of fresh peppers available at our local farmers’ market – it seems every Saturday I come home with more, and it’s hard sometimes to think of ways to use them up. But I knew, at some point, that I wanted to try my hand at making my own harissa, and this weekend was the perfect chance to do just that.

My version is based on Amy Scattergood’s basic recipe, which is referenced in both Heidi’s and Luisa’s posts, and I definitely took inspiration from both of them as far as modifications to the harissa as well as the dish I first used it in. And I tried, dear friends, to keep track of what I added and in what amounts, but darn it, I just lost the thread in the end. But here’s what I recall:

I started by soaking some dried chiles in hot water – guajillos and costeños, 3-4 apiece – then cutting off the stems, removing the seeds, and snipping them into smallish pieces. (Do wear protective gloves for this to avoid nasty burns – the oils cling to your skin and are very difficult to get off.) I placed the pieces into the food processor with four fat cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed), some crunchy salt, ground coriander and caraway seeds. I pulsed them a few times and then added more peppers, in the form of some of my grilled marinated red bells, along with 3 small fresh red chiles (also stemmed and seeded). I pulsed the mixture a few more times, and then added a couple of tablespoons of rose flower water and a dollop of tomato paste. I whizzed it up again, this time drizzling in some of our best extra virgin olive oil as the blade turned. I ended up with a creamy, brick red paste that is intensely hot, but has a lovely complexity. I spooned the mixture into a jar and floated a little more olive oil on top, then set it in the fridge for later.

Dinner:  September 23, 2008

I knew before I made the harissa what I wanted to do with it first: I’ve had Heidi’s pasta recipe bookmarked since she posted it, and the combination of harissa with leafy greens and an earthy whole-grain pasta did not disappoint. I used farro linguine and some of Woodstock Farm’s lovely rainbow chard, and the resulting dish was as pleasing to the palate as it was to the eye, a vibrant blend of textures, colors and flavors. I forgot to add olives and lemon zest, but I think they’d be a wonderful addition. Next time.

(Side note: I’m nursing an awful flare today, but thanks to my laptop and our wireless connection, I’m blogging from bed. Three cheers for technology! But I make no guarantee that you’ll get a post tomorrow. Mike’s cooking tonight anyway, he has been all day actually. Pork belly confit. Which is a wonderful thing to smell while convalescing with the cats.)