Friday, June 25, 2010


I have this little crush on David Tanis.  For six months he is the head Chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. (I know I've written about my love and adoration of Alice Waters.)  Then for six months he lives and cooks in PARIS.  Holding little salons and dinner parties and a private dining club.  IN PARIS.  Maybe it's not so much David Tanis I have a crush on, as it is his lifestyle.  I have his book, A Platter Of Figs and Other Recipes, and you know who he thanks in the acknowledgments?  David Sedaris.  When he's in PARIS he hangs out with David Sedaris.  Ok?  See what I'm saying here?  (Has anyone ever noticed before that Sedaris rhymes with Paris in this weird way?)

I also have a crush on David Tanis's food.  His whole philosophy is to use food when it is at the height of its season and to prepare it in a way that is both simple, fresh and flavorful.

So, last week, we're going to this party and I'm supposed to bring a dish, and I'm flipping through A Platter of Figs and see this spring menu with rabbit and what not and spinach cake - and I'm just caught by this spinach cake idea.  It looks so easy, and yet could be so amazing what with the fresh spinach I already had in my fridge from the farmer's market.  It's just leeks and a bit of butter and steamed fresh spinach and eggs and you whir it all up in a blender and pour it into a deep dish pie plate with a bit of parmesan on top and bake it until it's fluffy and set.  Well, maybe it's because I didn't spin the spinach after I washed it, or maybe it's because I had to let the concoction sit in the blender for 10 minutes when I went to pick Mads up from a friend's house, or even maybe it's my oven, which hasn't been calibrated in a while and might be cooking at a lower temp, or, maybe it's because I don't live in PARIS, but the whole thing turned out tasty, but watery.  Really watery.  I was bummed.  I know it wasn't David Tanis's fault, because that guy is a god.

So, I decided to make the whole thing over again last night because the farmer's market is on Thursdays and I thought I'd be able to pick up some awesome spinach, except there was this unbelievable hail/rain/armageddonish storm at 3pm right when people were setting up the farmer's market and most people just packed up and went on home.  I did score some incredible chocolate cake from Sarah Bakes - Sara is a parent at my daughter's school and is a good person to know if you need cake or brownies.  A really, really good person to know.  But, no spinach.  Only potatoes.

I did have a little bit of spinach left over from a salad I'd made earlier in the week, and I had some broccolini - which the girls love - and I had the leeks and eggs - and I was getting all ready to make this when I got a couple of phone calls which I had to take, then there was some issue in the basement with the dog eating a couple of pairs of underwear (you don't want to know...) and I thought we were having a guitar lesson for Emma, but that turned out not to be the case, at which point Smith came home and uncorked a Reisling, and the next thing I knew it was almost 7pm and I hadn't even begun to saute vegetables for a dish which needed 45 minutes (possibly more) in the oven.

In the end, I did what I always do - I took the basic idea of David Tanis's spinach cake and winged it - sauteed the vegetables, mixed up the eggs with some milk and tossed them into the pan, and baked it at 400 until it got puffy.  I liked it - but it was no David Tanis recipe, and it was a lot like a fritatta.  Then again, when I made David Tanis' recipe it was no David Tanis recipe...

This is what I did:

1 leek, chopped and rinsed of grit
2 TBLSP of butter
1 lb of baby spinach
1 lb of broccolini (that baby broccoli with the long tender stems) roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
a quick grating of nutmeg
a 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper - optional if you have kids, which I do.
6 eggs, whisked well
1 cup of milk
a grating of parmesan over the top

Preheat your oven to 400.  Saute the leeks in the butter.  When the leeks are nice and tender add the broccolini for a bit, then finally the spinach.  Season everything well because you're going to be adding the eggs soon.  Let the spinach wilt and the vegetable cook down

Meanwhile, whisk up the eggs the nutmeg and cayenne with the milk until it's all a bit frothy.

Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, grate on the cheese and stick the whole thing into the oven.  (Make sure you are using an oven proof pan!)

Let it cook about - I don't know 15 min?  I just kept checking though my oven's little window because I didn't want the whole thing to deflate.  It might have been 20 minutes.  In any case, I took it out when it was nicely browned and crusty.

Do check out the recipe for spinach cake on page 34 of A Platter Of Figs - and let me know if yours turns out better than mine...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Farmer's Market and a Stir Fry

I'm trying to go meatless 3 nights a week, which isn't easy for a mostly carnivorous family like mine.  Any day now, I tell my friends, my daughter, Mad, will go vegetarian; she already despises people who wear fur and leather.  (It is very difficult to find shoes without even a trimming of leather unless they are Converse All Stars, flip flops or Crocs - and she won't wear crocks any more).  However, like Michael Pollan, Mad feels that humans were born omnivores, and an omnivorous diet includes meat. She feels that we need meat for our health, perhaps even for survival, but that with all the synthetic fibers out there, we do not need to, as she likes to say, "slaughter animals for FASHION."

I'm afraid to say, that my desire to go meatless several times a week has more to do with the deficit in my own (synthetically produced) wallet, as opposed to say, animal rights or green concerns.  Ok, it also has to do with my preference for organically and humanely raised meat, and the fact that such meat costs, well, let's just say, a lot.  So we're cutting back which is lovely because this cutting back coincides with the opening of the brand spankin' new farmer's market in my township.

Last Thursday I bought these beautiful red spring onions, some garlic scapes - which are the tops of the garlic bulb (and which I discovered can be tough if you don't cut the pointy tops off) - some parsley, some chervil and a ton of fresh basil.

This is what I made with it all.  The girls ate it up - which is just a complete miracle in my opinion (please, no one tell them about the fish sauce).

Farmer's Market Stir Fry

TBLSP of oil - I used peanut but you can use grapeseed if you like
1 bunch of red spring onions - or scallions - trimmed and sliced
1 bunch of garlic scapes - trimmed and chopped

1 tsp fresh ginger (or more to taste)
2 cloves of garlic
3 cups of cooked white rice (I soak it then cook it because you want it very soft, not at all al dente)
1/3 cup fish sauce

juice of 1 lime

2 eggs, lightly beaten
about 1/4 cup of fresh basil

On the table:
Chinese chili sauce
soy sauce

I don't own a wok - (I do have a birthday in July coming up...) - so I use a large skillet.  Place this over a very high heat and get the pan as hot as you can.  Swirl in the oil, then throw the onions and garlic scapes in and stir around quickly.  When the onion and scapes are wilted throw in the ginger and garlic, but don't let them cook too long because they burn quickly.  Throw in all of the rice, then add fish sauce and the lime juice.  Let this cook down about a minute.  Add the eggs.  Let the eggs sit in the pan for 30 seconds to set, then stir it all up very quickly.  Add the basil, and you are done.

Plate it up, adding a little fresh basil.  At the table I like to add a few drops of chili sauce (Smith adds a LOT of chili sauce.)  My Mad, who is a salt-aholic adds soy sauce, but I feel the fish sauce is salty enough for my taste.

No pictures (sorry) - I never think to charge the battery soon enough.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why I Don't Own a Microwave ...

A lot of my friends are astonished that I don't own a microwave.   How do I defrost things? (In the refrigerator, over night.)   How do I cook frozen vegetables? (In a pot with water, it's just as quick.)  What about popcorn? (Cast iron dutch oven, heat-tolerant grapeseed oil = a lot more fun making popcorn.  Plus, Jiffy Pop if I'm desperate.  Who doesn't love Jiffy Pop?)  How do I melt chocolate?  (I'll admit, the chocolate melting is the best reason to own a microwave - no chance of steam sneaking in from the bottom part of the double boiler - but still, not a good enough reason.)

And then they ask, Why?

Well, I'm happy to tell you why we don't own a microwave, and it comes down to one very simple and clear reason:

I'm not the least bit embarrassed to admit this.  My microwave paranoia began when I was pregnant with my first child.  I'd throw the potato in the oven, slam the door, hit the 5 minutes on full power button then run to the other end of the house quick as I could.  When I became too pregnant to quickly get out of the way of the "dangerous leaking microwaves," I made my husband hit power, once I was safely out of the way.

Many of our friends used microwaves to heat milk and formula for their babies, but not us.  I felt it was wrong, somehow.  Plus I kept reading things about how microwaves don't heat evenly and children were being scalded by "hot pockets of milk".  We didn't use a lot of formula, but when we did it was room temperature for my babies, all the way.  To this day, Mad prefers her milk after it's had a chance to sit around a bit.

Then, in 2002 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and baby that was the end of it: the microwave was out.  I'd never trusted it, but now, now I felt there was proof.  It became my scapegoat, the source of my illness, and proof that the "fastification" (yes I did just make that word up) of food and food prep were helping no one.  We'd been eating organically grown food, drinking milk from grass fed cows, spending a fortune at Whole Foods and the health food store.  I made my own bread.  I idolized Alice Waters!  I was NOT a candidate for cancer.  I remember telling my sister-in-law about my diagnosis, and her response was, "YOU?!"  I never smoked, I went to bed early, I breast fed my children (the second one until she could talk...), I exercised,  and there was no history, whatsoever, of breast cancer in my family.

Ergo, the microwave.  I threw it away, and when we redid the kitchen, I didn't even make a space for a new one.

I'm sure my family missed it: what with the surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, I don't think I cooked much for almost a full year.  My poor husband.  Lots of people brought us meals, and it probably would have been nice for him to have been able to heat it up quickly and easily with the touch of a button.  But no go.  My paranoia had been confirmed: I had proof positive.  (I also believe that any sports team I actively support will lose if I watch them in  the playoffs.  Proof positive: last night I caught a couple minutes of the Stanley Cup.  Don't blame Michael Leighton, Philadelphia, blame me.)

During my treatment I met a nutritionist who confirmed my fears about the microwave.  She told me that there had been a study in Switzerland by these two guys: Blanc and Hertzel which showed the microwave actively changed the molecular structure of the food it was cooking, especially if you began with raw food.  And that when one ate this food, one's body had to work hard to recognize it as food - which caused your blood to produce more white blood cells, which caused - you guessed it - cancer.

When I came home armed with this new information, my husband despaired of ever being able to eat his Ben and Jerry's with out running it under warm water, or letting it sit out for 20 minutes.  He missed his microwave.

But who cares, right?  Because once treatment was over, I was all fine and dandy.  We kept on with the organic food, grass fed beef and milk, microwave free home.


Except two months ago I go in for my routine MRI.

And then the oncologist calls.

It wasn't quite cancer, but it was DCIS, a kind of pre-cancer which meant, given my history, more surgery.  Which I did.  And I'm fine.  They say it's all gone, that I'm not going to get breast cancer again (unless of course something metastasizes, but who am I to look on the dark side?).

OK, that was a long way of explaining why I haven't blogged since April.  I was tired, and my chest hurt and for two weeks my dear friends brought us food, and after that, I was just too whiney to do anything but cook old standbys. We've been eating a lot of pasta, and the girls are pretty sick of it.

And I thought, well, maybe it wasn't the microwave after all.  And I decided to google that theory about the microwave changing molecules ... and, yeah, it's most likely a bit of bunk.  It kind of depends on which website you choose to believe...

My husband is holding out some slim hope that I might allow a microwave back into our home.  But I tell him, "don't hold your breath," because even though I'm (supposedly) cancer free, and even though the microwave=cancer theory is (supposedly) untrue, one thing remains unchanged:

I'm paranoid.