4.29.2011

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.