Genius Claiborne remix. Ravioli con asparagi and green garlic. Did not suck.
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.
It doesn’t help that I feel guilty about not eating. I’m building a baby, after all.
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.
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.
We are finally… finally beginning to emerge from nearly two weeks of fierce battle against The Crud. Despite our best efforts at staying healthy, trying to strengthen our immunity by frequent hand-washing, liberal doses of homemade chicken stock, and, for two of the three of us anyway, getting flu shots, we were stricken, and hit hard. I suspect our recent trip to DC had something to do with it – it seems whenever we’ve traveled anywhere in the winter months, we always come down with something afterward.
As sick as we’ve been since, that trip was so worth it. We got to spend some long-overdue time with my parents, as well as my brother, his lovely wife, and their two adorable little ones. This was the first time Julian got to meet his cousins, and they got along famously.
On our first night in town, the entire clan ate dinner at a little Italian restaurant near our hotel, a mostly unremarkable place with checkered vinyl tablecloths and an encyclopedic menu. But one dish we ordered stood out in my memory – a side of white beans and escarole which we actually ordered for Julian, but which we adults ended up polishing off.
White beans and escarole is a pretty classic combination, probably most familiar served in soup form, but this take was different: the escarole was braised with a bit of tomato, and the whole thing was studded with plump little black olives. They were an unexpected addition, and we loved how their brininess mellowed in the cooking, rendering them lush and fruity, a wonderful complement to the bitter greens and creamy beans.
As soon as my appetite started coming back post-Crud, I began to crave this dish, and last night, I tried my hand at recreating it at home. With some toasted, crusty bread and a hearty red wine, this was a simple but satisfying meal I suspect we’ll come back to again and again.
Braised Escarole with White Beans and Olives
one large head of escarole
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
Kosher or sea salt
one cup basic tomato sauce
two large cloves garlic
1.5 cups of cooked white beans
1/2 cup pitted black olives
a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Trim the escarole, removing the stem end and any wilted outer leaves. Rinse it well and set aside. Add a glug of olive oil to a wide, shallow pan, and warm it over medium heat. Add the escarole and a big pinch of salt (it’s fine if a bit of water is still clinging to its leaves), and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the pan and let cook over medium heat until the escarole is mostly wilted and a bit browned in spots, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato and garlic, stir through, lower the heat, and continue cooking partially covered for another 10-15 minutes, until the liquid in the pan has reduced and thickened and the escarole is very soft. Stir in the beans and olives, add the red pepper flakes if using, and cook an additional 10 minutes or so, until everything is warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon into shallow bowls, with a generous drizzle of olive oil on top, and toasted bread alongside.
I’ve always been pretty proud of my ability to think on my feet. It’s a skill that has served me well at my day job, but it has proven to be invaluable since I became a mom. You just never know what the day will bring.
We’ve been lucky – Julian has been extremely healthy and robust, but yesterday he just wasn’t feeling like himself. He had had some immunizations at his 15-month checkup late last month, and his doctor warned us he might show some delayed symptoms about a week after; right on schedule, he was cranky and fussy and spiked his very first fever Sunday morning. We tried time and again to put him down for a nap in his crib, but he wasn’t having it, so I nestled him close to me in the big bed, and read while he drifted off, staying with him for nearly three hours.
He slept deeply and well, his fever broke, and he woke with a smile on his face, but I had to shelve my original plan for dinner. Something brothy and comforting seemed like just what we all needed, so I put a small pot of beans on the stove and got to chopping while Mike took over tending to our boy.
I was inspired by a beautiful pot of minestrone I saw on Pinterest, so I cobbled together my own version, rich with alliums and fennel, carrots and parsnips, cabbage and kale, good canned tomatoes, fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay. I added a dash of Worcestershire for savoriness and a splash of Sherry vinegar for brightness, the cooked beans and their broth for heft, and a parmesan rind for the wonderful richness it imparts. I didn’t have any soup pasta around, but I did have a bag of par-cooked whole wheat spirals in the freezer left over from a previous meal, so I thawed them and stirred them gently into the soup until they were just warmed through.
I also had a bunch of leafy celery in the crisper, so I pulled off a big handful of the leaves to make a quick gremolata of sorts, chopping them fine and combining them with garlic and lemon zest and coarse pink salt, plus a little bit of olive oil to make a chunky paste, which I swirled on top of our soup bowls.
We settled in at the table, passing a tray of cheese-dusted, garlicky toasts for dunking, and even Julian ate with gusto. I guess a good pot of soup really is the cure for what’s ailing you.
Since I read Tamar Adler‘s book a month or so back (yes, I’m late to the party as usual), Sundays will find me, at a minimum, roasting a couple of big platters of vegetables to tuck away for the week ahead.
This sort of cooking ahead is more important than ever now that Julian’s diet has shifted mostly to solids, and we want to provide him with an abundance of tasty, seasonal vegetables in a format that’s easy for him to eat – and that’s easy for both his work-at-home Daddy and office-working Mommy to prepare and eat as well.
It’s also nice to have something easy to throw together for dinner after, say, a long weekend away, when you return home to a near-empty fridge and the thought of another meal out makes you want to stab yourself with a fork.
Enter our trusty jar of slow-roasted vegetables, a mix of yellow and green zucchini, young eggplant, and candy-sweet golden tomatoes, caramelized and bathed in a soft marinade of cider and champagne vinegars and plenty of fruity olive oil. I’ve tossed these with pasta, layered them in a warmed pita with our favorite local hummus, served them on a bed of wheatberries, or with salty French feta alongside, and on this night, I scattered them over a base of prepared whole wheat dough spread with creme fraiche and dotted with soft goat cheese – a rustic tart, of sorts.
Julian ate his straight, once it had cooled enough to touch, and devoured room-temperature leftovers the next day, eating crust and cheese first, then gathering up any vegetables that had dropped off and popping them into his mouth one by one. I topped the grown-ups’ portions with big handfuls of raw arugula, a drizzle of red wine vinegar, and lots of cracked black pepper.
A meal that took a minimum of time and effort to put together, packed with vegetables and loaded with flavor, that all three of us loved? You can’t get much better than that.
You’d never know it from this blog, but at 9 (!!) months pregnant, I’m still cooking dinner just about every night. Photos, too, are still being taken on a fairly regular basis, though they don’t often make it to my Flickr stream until days after the fact. As for the blogging… well, after commuting and work and more commuting and dinner-making and possibly ice cream, I’m lucky if I can keep my eyes open to read a chapter or two before passing out for the night. And I’m generally okay with that.
But I really had to tell you about this salad.
Farmers market season is in full swing here in New England, and between Providence and Boston, we could hit a market just about every day if we wanted. Though Mike and I are no longer just a short walk away, we still frequent the big Saturday market at Lippitt Park, and when we’re there, our friend Lynn (hi Lynn!) makes sure we don’t leave without a big bunch of kale.
Now, I like kale, I really do, but I had darn near run out of new or interesting ways to prepare it until I found a folded up page in the middle of a stack of old papers to be shredded. It was a printed list of specials from one of our favorite old NYC haunts, and as my eyes scanned the list of ingredients for this salad, I knew that even though I had never actually eaten it at any of our many visits to Diner, I’d have to try to replicate it at home.
I started with the dressing – a splash of red wine vinegar, a pinch of coarse sea salt, the juice of half a lemon, and a palmful of chopped fresh cilantro leaves, whisked together with just enough of our best olive oil to bring it all together. I added slivers of red onion next, allowing them to steep for a bit to lose their sharpness, then I added the kale – half a bunch or so, torn into manageable bites, tossing it with the dressing until the leaves were well-coated. Next came some fresh sweet corn (an ear’s worth of kernels), a couple of ripe white peaches, sliced, and finally, a shower of salty, crumbled Narragansett Creamery feta. Let it sit for a minute or five, until the kale softens up a bit. Then eat.
We ate this alongside Mike’s delicious brick chicken, but the salad was the star – an unexpected combination of flavors that worked just beautifully together. We each had two bowls of it, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be making this right through the end of summer.
The month of May has not been great for planned dinners in our little household. Between work commitments, appointments, preparing for our move across town, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-us trip to Detroit for my Grandma’s 90th birthday, my attempts at shopping for and sticking to a meal plan have mostly been a big fat flop.
I’ve also had difficulty improvising, of late. I’ve been tired and finicky, and cooking down the pantry and freezer pre-move has been less than inspiring – it doesn’t help that it still feels like March outside. I’m in a bit of a rut, but restless, eager for simpler, lighter fare (and the weather to match, please).
Mike had to turn around and head down to NYC right on the heels of our Detroit trip, but he returned with some goodies from the Union Square Greenmarket that perked me right up, among them a beautiful bunch of asparagus that made its way into our dinner last night. We’ve missed the first couple weeks of the local stuff, so this was very welcome, and I wanted to treat it fairly simply.
I gave it a good rinse, snapped off the ends, and roasted the spears until they were just tender, serving them on a bed of creamy, cheesy polenta. I topped each plate off with a pastured local egg, fried in olive oil until the edges were crisp, and sprinkled with coarse grey salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. This may not have been the light spring dish I’ve been dreaming of, but it was perfect for the damp, chilly night, and it was just the kind of simple meal that always satisfies me.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it. We’re not yet done with January and we’ve had more than our yearly average snowfall. My commute has been awful – if the trains aren’t delayed by snow and ice, then switches are breaking, signals malfunctioning, rail cars creeping ever so slowly from station to station. I’ve missed my bus home from the train station every night this week, and tonight looks to be no exception, with more snow expected to begin this afternoon, continuing overnight.
We’ve been on a steady diet of comfort food – a hearty pot roast Sunday night, an almost-meatless soup on Monday, loaded with creamy beans, pasta, and bits of pancetta (not yet our own, but we’re oh-so-close). Last night, I threw together this simple pasta dish, a combination of grated beets cooked down in butter with a healthy splash of white balsamic, the pasta par-cooked then added to the beets with some pasta water to finish, becoming infused with beet flavor and that lovely rich hue. There are similar pastas out there that include poppy seeds and mint, but Mike and I both wanted goat cheese, so I crumbled a bit of Vermont Butter & Cheese chevre on our plates, along with some chopped pistachios for a visual and textural pop. The vibrant colors and bright flavors chased my winter blues away, at least for a little while.
If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, you’ve probably already seen me proudly cheering on my cool friends Cathy and Kim, who are featured in the Washington Post today. If you haven’t, check it out. I’m there, too, on page two, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
We’re up to our elbows in snow, and a good four days into our 10-day adaptation of the Food Lovers’ Cleanse. The biggest problem I’ve had (as I suspected would be the case) is that it has been really difficult to make the plan’s suggested breakfasts and lunches work with my weekday schedule, but I’ve also found that the recipes in general have been really hit or miss.
I was almost ready to give up entirely after our first dinner, the disastrous Ultimate Winter Couscous, which smelled so lovely in the oven but tasted like a whole lot of unpleasantly-textured nothing on the plate (and I’m still at a loss as to why those vegetables needed four whole tablespoons of olive oil). Mike tried and really liked Heidi’s cinnamon quinoa, the edamame hummus (both of which I look forward to trying), and the tuna with celery root and apple salad, but I couldn’t even smell that salad without gagging (and I love celery root). I ended up eating dry tuna with even drier Wasa crackers.
On a positive note, we truly loved the salmon in Bengali mustard sauce and the black-eyed pea curry (for which I used yellow-eye beans from Freedom Bean Farm in Maine), both of which we’d happily put into regular rotation.
Perhaps my favorite recipe so far, though, is one that does not appear in the original BA Food Lovers’ Cleanse, but one I decided to swap in for the OMG-are-you-serious? on-a-weeknight? Successively Simmered Koya-Dofu and Vegetables, the incredibly aromatic, delicious, satisfying, and – wait for it – easy enough for a weeknight (or any darned time) Vegetarian Pho by our friend Winnie Abramson.
You toast coriander seeds, cloves, star anise, and a cinnamon stick in a dry skillet until fragrant, add them to some warm vegetable broth with an onion and some peeled and smashed ginger, plus an Indonesian soy sauce (which I couldn’t find, so I used her suggested substitution of brown sugar and tamari). You bring it to a boil, simmer, strain out the solids, chop the softened onion and ginger, then add them back to the pot along with edamame and chopped bok choy. Cook a little longer, add your rice noodles (I even used whole grain rice noodles! Healthy!), and finish with a big hit of fresh lime juice, Sriracha, cilantro and fresh scallions. Easy. Peasy. Delicious. And so nice we ate it twice.