The making of it

According to the calendar, April has been chugging along now for twenty-nine days. This realization might have qualified as a where-has-the-time-gone moment if I didn’t know precisely where it’s gone. We’ve been moving. I can now happily report that we are no longer living next to a construction site. Instead, we’re living in one. This one is of our own making, though – we’re the ones doing the constructing – so even though our (new!) apartment is a royal mess, it’s our royal mess. Eli is king, I am queen, and we are presiding most happily over our dust and drop cloths.

We are also most tired. Most dirty, too.

This move has taught me a couple of things. I’ve learned that Mozart’s sonata, K.332 in F, plinking from laptop speakers takes on new life when accompanied by the squish-drag-squish of a paint roller. I’ve learned that when you’re shuttling books from room to room, shelving them according to genre (no, by size… no wait, by author… or maybe by title… or by color… okay, NEVER MIND, by genre) there comes a time when you must sit your weary self down in the middle of the living room floor, tear into a fresh package of Hint-O-Mint Newman-O’s, and consume approximately three to five more than you had intended. While you’re down there, you might look up and notice that the tree in the window is suddenly studded with tiny green buds. And though it’s barely spring, you’ll think ahead to fall, when that tree will blaze orange, when which books live on which shelves in which rooms will be old news.

This move has also confirmed something that I’ve known for a while: Falling head over heels for the most capable man you know is just plain smart. Eli has a way with, well, things. Physical things. Mechanical things. He just gets them. He sizes them up, thumps them, pokes around inside of them. Sometimes, he simply contemplates a thing from across the room and instinctively, like magic, understands the way it works. Ever since Eli was a kid, he’s been building things, taking things apart - a nightlight, a clock radio - to see how they work or, sometimes, for the sheer joy of putting them back together again. The grown-up version of that kid knows his way around a circular saw, a miter saw, a nail gun, and half-a-dozen other tools I can’t name. He makes desks and shelves and wine racks and cutting boards and wooden-handled knives. He’s a builder, a maker, a dream-it-up-and-bang-it-out-er. It’s fun being married to a guy like that. The best. And when you’ve got a list of new apartment to-dos, it is also exquisitely convenient.

We’ve had access to our old apartment all month, and Eli has converted it into a woodshop. He’s set up tables and rented tools, and stalks the aisles of Home Depot once, sometimes twice, each day in search of plywood sheets, drill bits, mounting hardware, brad nails, 2x4s (and 1x10s, and 1x12s, and 1x3s and 1x4s…), wood primer, flat white paint, and semi-gloss, too. A recent shopping list included 200 number eight ¾-inch screws, 40 zinc-plated corner brackets, 21 cabinet pulls, and one shower rod, all of which are by now holding together various corners of our new home. Whew.

By the end of our first week here, Eli had ripped out the oddly placed hanging poles in our even more oddly shaped closets and fitted them all with shelves, cubbies, hooks, and rods that make sense. Never in my life have I been more excited about storage.

That week we also installed the steel framing for our open pantry (!) and designed the built-in bookcase that’s now underway. Then, for good measure, Eli unhinged the dial and locking mechanism from the in-wall bedroom safe that had been left open, and sat stroking the notched wheels, ‘round and ‘round, until he had cracked the long lost combination, and the lever clicked and caught. I spoke with a close friend of mine the other night who said that he doesn’t know which is cooler, that Eli knows how to do all of this stuff, or that he actually goes and does it. I’m typing this now from the bed while Eli knocks a board into place on the desk he’s building into the wall for me, and from where I sit, I’d say it’s both of these things.

So, anyway, we’ve been busy. Food, the eating of it, has sometimes been an afterthought over these last few weeks. The making of it, though, has been at the front of my mind as I set up my kitchen. When I’m finding new homes for my spoons, and knives, and baking sheets, I’m thinking about the way that I cook, where I want to stand when the mixer groans to life, and how far I want to reach for my yellow spatula when it’s time to scrape down the bowl. What I cooked first in our new kitchen is something that I call salt and vinegar potatoes with green beans. It is also what I cooked last in our old kitchen. No surprise there, prone as I am to recipe spells.

Salt and vinegar potatoes with green beans are the cool weather cousin of my favorite potato salad, the one that my step-mom, Amy, has made for as long as I can remember. Instead of boiling the potatoes, you roast them in a very hot oven until they’re blistered and wrinkly skinned. Then, you shower them with salt, douse them with vinegar, and toss them together with blanched and shocked green beans. Simple. So simple, that I wasn’t even planning on sharing it with you. But then I served it to some friends a few weeks back – the last meal at our red table by the window! – and it turns out that I am not the only one who finds a hot, salty potato, a perfectly blanched bean, and a river of vinegar irresistible. Something worth talking about, for sure.

I’ve served it for dinner – alongside Eli’s brisket one night, and baked eggplant another – and, as you see here, for breakfast, too, beneath fried eggs. The snap of cold, sweet beans against earthy potatoes, the bright slap of vinegar, the crust of salt, it all feels like spring to me, and that’s where I want to be.

Salt and Vinegar Potatoes with Green Beans

The key to perfect, blistery potatoes is a very hot oven, and I mean hot. Make sure that your oven has reached 500 degrees Fahrenheit before you even think about sliding in those potatoes. If you roast the potatoes at a lower temperature, the insides of the potatoes will be mush by the time they blister. Also, be careful not to overcook the beans. Have your ice bath ready, and prepare to move when it’s time to transfer the steaming beans into the water.

2 pounds of baby red potatoes (the smaller the better)
1½ pounds of green beans
2-3 Tbsps. olive oil
5 Tbsps. red wine vinegar (a bit more or less, according to taste)
A copious amount of coarsely ground sea salt (I use Maldon flakes in this recipe)
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Wash and trim the beans, and set aside. Scrub the potatoes, dry them, cut them in half, and toss them with the olive oil in a large bowl. Season with salt and a few grinds of pepper. I usually start with 3-4 generous pinches of salt and add more later on.

Dump the oiled potatoes onto a baking sheet and arrange them cut side up. I use a rimmed baking sheet so that the oil doesn’t slide off, and I line it with parchment paper for easy cleanup. Roast the potatoes for 20-25 minutes, until fork-tender. Hold onto that oily bowl. You’ll need it later.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Also, prepare your ice bath. You’ll want to use a bowl big enough to hold plenty of water and ice so that the temperature in there remains quite cold, even after you’ve dunked the hot beans. Add the beans to the boiling water and blanch for 1½-2 minutes. Immediately remove the pot from the heat, drain the beans into a colander, transfer them into the ice bath, and keep them there until you’re ready to toss them with the potatoes.

When the potatoes are brown, blistered, and cooked through, transfer them back into their original bowl. Be sure to scrape all of the oil that’s pooled around the potatoes into the bowl, too. Then, toss with the vinegar. I begin with 5 tablespoons, and usually end up adding more. Taste, and add more salt, as needed. Dry the blanched and shocked beans, add them to the potatoes, mix, and serve immediately.

Serves 6, as a side dish.


Molly said...

An open pantry and a built-in bookcase! I'm excited just reading about all that storage. It had never occurred to me to douse a hot, blistery potato with vinegar, but that sounds like the perfect thing to do to one.

jacqui | happyjackeats said...

I am jealous of your handyman. Murdo doesn't really know how to build anything, and neither do I, but he does make a good sandwich, and I'm a good eater, so there's that. If you ship Eli over to Chicago to build a cool closet for us, we'll make a killer meatball sandwich for him. You're invited, too. Oh, and bring those potatoes!

Middle Eastern European said...

Ah, lady, it's good to see you back again!
And to celebrate, there's a piece of the first post I've published that you might remember from way back in 2003...

linda said...

i so enjoy the new "shining" & "refreshing" face of "sweet amandine." i enjoy reading about your new home, seeing your red table happily showing off your cooking efforts (this recipe looks great) & just "catching up" with you!
kudos to the king & queen!

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Sounds like your new space is coming along! I am such a fan of salt and vinegar potato chips and these sound like a guilty pleasure that is right up my alley. Loving your recipe spells ...

Jess said...

Good morning, friends!

Do it, Molly! You will not look back. (And yes - storage, glorious storage!)

Jacqui, I passed along your invitation to Eli this morning, and he's totally in. Funny you should mention meatballs, since we've been on a major meatball kick, lately. We visited Eli's family in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago, and his mother sent us home with loads of her wonderful meatballs, frozen for safe keeping. I thought we had eaten them every which way, but we haven't yet gone the sandwich route!

Steph, hey! Nice new blog! I had totally forgotten about that particular shenaningan of yours and the odd conversation that followed. So funny.

Hi, Linda. It's really nice for me to get caught up here, too! Looking forward to things settling down a bit now so that I can spend more time here again.

A Plum By Any Other Name - It is coming along, slowly but surely. And that's what I was thinking as I ate these potatoes: like salt and vinegar chips -- only better.

Rosiecat said...

Yes! Hot potatoes love vinegar! I make oil-and-vinegar oven fries that are addictively good, so I like where you're going with these salt and vinegar potatoes. As soon as I can get my hands on some good green beans, I'll be trying this recipe.

Tracy said...

It's nice having a crafty man. And you're feeding him so well. I'm salivating over this recipe.

Sally said...

I love roasted potatoes, so can only imagine how tasty they'd be with greenn beans (esp. because I've been making green beans exactly the same way, with Maldon sea salt, and they are DELICIOUS).

The apt. sounds great - you must post photos when you're done!

Jess said...

Rosiecat! Oil-and-vinegar FRIES? Whoa baby.

Tracy - It's the least I can do, right?

Hi, Sally. Yes, when dust settles, I'll throw a few photos up here.

koshercamembert said...

Hi Jess --
After reading your post this morning, I've been thinking about potatoes ALL day. Sitting through a meeting. Going out to drinks with my colleagues and boss and wondering when I could politely excuse myself. And then finally running through the grocery store and hand picking the best little potatoes just in time to find myself...stuck in the rain without an umbrella. Wet potatoes (and hair and high heels) in tow, I'm finally home and the oven is just let me know that it's hot, very hot. In 30 minutes, I'll be warm, dry, and happily sated. Thanks for the perfect recipe and I can't wait to see the new place!

- Gayle

Danielle said...

Jess, how exciting to be in your new place! It sounds as though it is all coming along nicely. And clearly you've chosen wisely in Eli.

As for the beans and potatoes? One of my all time favourite combinations. I usually make a huge batch and snack on them for a couple of days, adding them to any and every meal.

Have you made any kettle corn in your new place? I hear it's custom.

molly said...

This sounds like my favorite potato chip, made respectable and come around for dinner. Excellent.

Welcome home, Jess.

Stephanie said...

There you are! Hello my long lost! So glad you are getting settled in, Jess. We are walking parallel roads at the moment. I, too, have been thinking a lot about cooking as I organize my new kitchen, thinking about what I want to make for guests when they come over.

Speaking of which....

Nishta said...

!!! can't wait to see more photos as the project rolls along.

your husband is swell, but you forgot to mention that he's good-looking, too :)

Jess said...

Hi, Gayle. Sounds to me as if you had a classic case of potato brain. I love it! I hope that those hot little potatoes warmed you right up and were worth the pre-dinner "shower."

No kettle corn yet, Danielle, but you're right. We're overdue for an inaugural batch.

Oh, Molly, you make me smile. And thank you. It's feeling more and more like home every day.

Ahhh Steph, yes, here I am. At least I think I am. Whew. What a month. And for you, too! E-mail coming soon. Big hugs, friend.

Jess said...

Whoops, Nishta, I think we were commenting at the same time. Hi there. More photos to come, though, I have to say, it's really better in person... (hint, hint) And yeah, Eli's a cutie. I think I'll keep him.

Kasey said...

I can't wait for the day when I'll be able to preside over a royal mess associated with building my own home. I've been renting forever but I love the idea of getting my hands dirty with my husband. I've only made salt and vinegar potatoes once, but I should really give it another go soon.

Maddie said...

I love that you'll admit to eating copious amounts of Newman-O's in the same breath that you describe the perfect, well-rounded one-bowl meal. And the way you talk about your husband—so sweet! So glad you're back to chat with all of us, Jess.

Adrian J.S. Hale said...

I thought you might want to know if someone was walking through the market and saw some small spring potatoes and was seized by the sudden notion to grab them and-- quick, look for some greenbeans, I know there were greenbeans-- I have vinegar-- oh, I should probably look it up on my phone.

And there I was, entranced by your blog post (for the second time) in the aisle at our local little market.

An hour later, it was delicious. Thank you, and welcome back. It's good to see you again.

Jess said...

Hi, Kasey. Yes, it's fun thinking about building something from the ground up. We're really happy renting for now, but if we ever buy a home one day, we'd love to go the fixer-upper route.

Ah, Adrian, you know me so well: Of course I want to know! I love that this recipe was buzzing around in your brain while you scanned the produce aisle, that you paused mid-shop to read (again!), and that you took the time to report back about it all. Thank you! I'm so pleased that you enjoyed these potatoes and beans. And thanks for the greetings. I miss being here, and I'm looking forward to posting regularly again. Soon!

megan said...

This is probably the easiest recipe EVER and I managed to screw it up. But not so much that it isn't delicious. And I have leftover ingredients to try again tomorrow...

Thank you!

Jess said...

Oh no, Megan! Potatoes have given you trouble in the past, too, haven't they? I can't imagine what went wrong. Hopefully the second batch came out better...? When you're here this summer we'll make some potatoes together and lift the potato curse once and for all! xo.

And Maddie, if you're reading this, hello! It's the strangest thing: Your comment just popped up yesterday, despite your having written it last week! I'm not sure what happened, but thank you for your sweet note. (And yes, bring on the cookies. Bring on the well-rounded meals. I do not discriminate.)

Bowen Close said...

Thought I had found the perfect recipe for tonight - with a surplus of green beans and potatoes in the fridge - then realized a 500 degree oven when it's 92 degrees outside would be a bit foolish. I suppose I could grill the potatoes instead of roasting them, then proceed as normal?

Jess said...

Hi, Bowen. I fear I may be getting back to you too late for tonight's dinner, but yes, I think that grilling the potatoes would be terrific. Maybe even better than the original!

Bowen said...

Hey Jess - Made these on Friday using the grill and they were fantastic! Crispy and a little charred in places and just perfect. I ended up using our green beans the night beforehand, but added some chives and had a heavy hand with the vinegar (like you suggested) and they were addictively good - even with five people at dinner I think I ate half of them! Thanks for an easy go-to recipe!

Jess said...

So happy to hear it, Bowen! Thanks for reporting back.