11.29.2011

I’m talking about parsnip

When I was a little girl, “Friday night dinner” was a thing, an event that began each week in the lobby of my grandparents’ apartment building. I got to find the buzzer on the board, number 815, and press it with my finger. Then, there was an elevator ride up, and my grandfather standing in the doorway of the last apartment on the left. My sister and I would charge down the long hallway. I haven’t thought about that for a long time, and it surprises me how clearly I remember the sound of our footfall on the carpet. “When I was a little girl” means something different to me now that Mia’s here.

My grandmother’s name was Marion. The last time I was home in Cleveland, I found a photo of her that was taken in the house where my mother grew up.


I never saw her kitchen like that, so cluttered with dishes, and pots, and appliances (and, uh, Grape Ade?), but I wish I had. She looks happy.

My grandmother was beautiful and liked to make herself more beautiful. Most days, she smelled faintly of hairspray and makeup, but on Friday nights, when I loved her most, she smelled like soup, brothy, salted, and sweet. I’m not sure if she would have appreciated my saying a thing like that. If she were here, I hope she would know what I mean. For those Friday night meals, my grandmother would sometimes make pea soup, and sometimes mushroom barley, but her fallback position was chicken soup. She made it almost every week.


I’m not going to tell you about my grandmother’s chicken soup today, though someday, I’d like to. Instead, I want to tell you about just one special component of it. At least I thought it was, when I was a kid. Special, and also a little bit weird. I’m talking about parsnip. By now, I’ve eaten parsnip every which way – roasted and braised, steamed and stewed – but back then, the only parsnip I’d ever met was the parsnip that turned up each week in that soup. It looked like carrot floating there in the pot, only white, and that felt exotic, to me. It tasted exotic, too, richer and greener and more fragrant than the other root vegetables I knew. I always asked for extra parsnip in my bowl.


The soup I have for us today features parsnip, along with more fresh parsley than I’ve ever seen in a single recipe. I’m used to measuring parsley by the tablespoon, or by the handful, at most. So if you’re like me, the sight of two cups of chopped parsley on your cutting board will mildly terrify you. You may even decide that, the first time around, you’ll add just a cup, and see how it goes, because two cups, two cups – that can’t be right. Like me, you’d be wrong. I’m not sure how it works, but in there with the parsnips and leeks (Oh, did I mention? There are also leeks.), two cups of parsley is perfect. All of that parsley has an added benefit, too: it turns the soup the loveliest shade of green. You’ll have to trust me on this one, since I’ve gone black and white on you, today. Or, you can click over to Elise’s site, where I found the recipe. She’s posted a gorgeous green glamour shot right here.

I made this soup twice the week before Thanksgiving to use up the last of the parsnips and leeks from this year’s farm share, and I’ll be making it again, soon. It takes only a few minutes to get everything into the pot, and just another few later on to purée it. It’s 100% vegetables, which means it's quite light, but rich enough that a friend of mine asked if it had any cream in it. All of which makes it a nice soup to have in your back pocket this time of year. You know, when your front pockets are full of cookies.


Parsnip Soup with Leeks and Parsley
Adapted from Simply Recipes

I mentioned the pretty green color of this soup, so I should warn you that it holds onto its green for only so long. It will still taste perfectly delicious on the second or third day after you make it, but it will lose some of its vibrance. Also, a word about parsnip prep: If the cores are hard and fibrous, remove them before chopping the rest of the parsnip. If the cores seem okay to you, you can leave them in.

2 Tbsp. butter
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced lengthwise, and then crosswise into ¼-inch slices
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1½-2 pounds parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 strips lemon peel, 1” x 2” each
1-2 tsp. salt
4 c. vegetable stock
2 c. water
2 c. finely chopped fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley (plus a little more, if you want some for garnish)
1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Black pepper, to taste

Heat the butter in a 4 to 6 quart pot over a medium flame. When the butter foams, add the leeks, and toss to coat them with the butter. Once the leeks are sizzling, lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook until soft. Don’t let the leeks brown.

Add the parsnips and olive oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt, then add the stock, the water, and lemon peel. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and cook at a low simmer until the parsnips are completely tender. It should take about 30 minutes.

Remove and discard the lemon peels. Add the parsley, and purée the soup until smooth with an immersion or stand blender. If using a stand blender, be careful! When blending hot liquids, never fill the blender more than halfway. I like to hold the cover of the blender closed with a dish towel, just to be safe.

Return the puréed soup to the pot, and stir in the lemon juice. Taste, and add more salt or black pepper, if needed. Garnish with the rest of the chopped parsley, a little olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper. Elise also suggests chopped chives. That sounds good, to me.

Serves 6.

11.23.2011

How we gather

A baby lives with us now, which means that I get less sleeping time. Less sleeping time, though, means more thinking time, and that feels like a fair trade. Today, I’ve been thinking about how we gather.


My parents are divorced, so how we gather, the “we” that gathers, changes each year.


Last year, we joined my step-mom Amy’s family for Thanksgiving in Toledo, Ohio. These photos are from that trip. With guitars, and buckeyes, and elbows on the table is how we gathered there.




With borrowed sweatshirts, a football, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (he’s back!), and three kinds of pie.




Before the meal, we joined hands around the table. Each of us had to say out loud why we were thankful for the person on our left. I like that we gather that way. A person who loves me very much was standing on my right, and when her turn came, she said simply that she was thankful that I was here. I had had my fourth and final surgery five and a half months earlier, a surgery that we hadn’t expected, but that had felt like a finish line, of sorts. That’s why she said it, I know, because my being almost gone, but then here, was still on everyone’s mind. The thing is, it had only just recently stopped being always on my mind, so being thanked for being “here” felt hard. “Is that the bar, for me? Not dead?” I asked Eli before bed that night. I want to be more than just “here.”


We’re staying put in Cambridge this year for Thanksgiving. My mother is with us, and we’re going to my friend Julia’s parents’ house tomorrow. I’m bringing apple cake. Maybe something chocolate, too.

Happy Thanksgiving. See you next week, with soup.

11.16.2011

A greater slaw

I was on the phone with a friend the other day, when she mentioned something that occurred “last summer.” I happened to know for a fact that that something could not have occurred “last summer,” by which, I assumed, she meant the summer of 2010, summer of Schoko-Reiswaffeln, and pelmeni, and exceedingly kind Dutch waiters. But of course, by “last summer” she meant last summer, the one that began and ended a few months ago in our very own 2011. This year’s last summer. That this year already has a “last summer” to speak of blew my mind. How did that happen? It’s November, friends! Halfway to December, even. Yet I somehow missed the part where summer slipped so far into our past that we have to glance back over our shoulders to get a good look at it.

There were signs: the darker days, the stuffed pumpkin for dinner, the return of the scarves and, not least, the September baby – so tiny that I thought she might pop at the lightest touch – now nine weeks old. And then, this week, there was cabbage. I’m not talking about the white-ish green Arrowhead cabbages that have been manning the markets now for months. I mean the purple kind, huge, heavy, and sweet. One turned up in our farm share box last week. I was thinking about what to do with it, heading in the direction of braise, when Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Plenty, arrived at my door with a game-changing page 102. The recipe is called “Sweet winter slaw” and, after momentarily panicking that the purple cabbage in my fridge meant I’d missed the end of autumn, too, I realized that this past summer was not only a slippery one, but a slaw-less one. I’ll say it again, this time with feeling: How did that happen? Cue the compensatory slaw, a winter slaw made mid-autumn to make up for a slaw-less summer.



Ottolenghi’s slaw, the one in the book, is rather more involved than the one you see here. The “sweet” in the title is not just red cabbage-sweet, but papaya-sweet, mango-sweet and, above all, caramelized macadamias-sweet. Ottolenghi calls for a fresh red chile. And cilantro! And mint! And lemongrass in the dressing! I would like to eat that slaw. If I ever find myself in a kitchen with all said items present, I will. In the meantime, I’ll eat it the way I made it last week (three times!), with what I had on hand: cabbage and more cabbage. I threw in some peanuts and sesame seeds, too. Eli and I first ate it for dinner alongside scrambled eggs last week, and he immediately insisted that it’s more of a salad than a slaw. I thought it was because, for him, slaw means coleslaw, and coleslaw means mayo. (“The only slaw I ever knew,” he said.) But today he tells me it’s because this slaw feels like something more than slaw. It’s a greater slaw, as slaws go, a slaw that requires very little, if anything, else on the plate to make it a meal. So call it salad, or call it slaw. With a couple of rye crackers and a bit of cheese, I call it lunch.

Red Cabbage Slaw
Adapted from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi’s as-written recipes are perfectly tuned. I know because I’ve had the chance to eat several dishes from this book at the table of my friend, Molly. I was fairly certain at first that paring down this recipe to the barest of bones made me a bad person. Then, I tasted my version, and I felt better. It’s delicious this way, too.

For the dressing:

6½ Tbsp. lime juice
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. toasted (or just plain old) sesame oil
1 tsp. soy sauce
¼ tsp. chile flakes
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:

½ a red cabbage (10 oz.), finely shredded
7 inner leaves of a Savoy cabbage (6 oz.), finely shredded (Any green cabbage will do if you don’t have a Savoy.)
½ tsp. chile flakes
A few pinches of salt
¾ c. peanuts
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 c. loosely packed cilantro, roughly chopped (optional; I know how some of you out there feel about cilantro.)

Make the dressing: In a small saucepan, heat all of the ingredients but the oils. Reduce over high heat for 5-10 minutes, or until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat, let cool, and whisk in the oils.

Pile the shredded cabbage in a large mixing bowl, season with the salt ad ½ teaspoon chile flakes, and toss with the dressing. Add the peanuts and sesame seeds, a little more salt, if necessary, toss again, and serve.

Serves four hungry people who will eat it as a main dish, and six not-so-hungry people who will eat it on the side.

11.07.2011

P.S.


I know what you’re thinking: that couldn’t possibly be a photo of an apple cake. Especially not an apple cake that looks so strikingly similar to a certain Teddie’s Apple Cake that I described to you not one week ago. What can I say? That cake and I weren’t through.

It’s nothing new. I’ve never been good at leaving well enough alone. One day last week, I spent so much time penning over a “1” that looked suspiciously seven-ish on an outgoing piece of mail that I had to tear up the envelope and start over. And back in September, I couldn’t help but swoop down with my spatula to smooth a tiny blip in the frosting on my father’s birthday cake, thereby creating a new tiny blip, which I fixed, but then blip, fixed, but then blip, and so on, until I had resurfaced the entire thing. I’m working on it. At least I was. But then along came a cake that confirms what I’ve always suspected: sometimes “well enough,” even very, very well enough, could be, should be better.

My friend, Molly, came over for some baby squishing the day that I first made Teddie’s. I had prepared enough batter to fill a giant tube pan, but since I don’t own a tube pan, I had divided it into two 9-inch cake pans, which meant that I had an extra cake parked on my counter when Molly arrived. We ate from the first, and she took the second cake home to serve at a dinner party that evening. I had told her about my niggly plans for a browner, wheatier Teddie’s, and the next morning, I got an e-mail. The cake had been a hit:

if you improve upon it in the ways you were saying, i think it will be unstoppable. an apple cake to take over the world.

Friends, meet your new world leader.


Everything I told you about last week’s Teddie’s is true of this week’s too, only it’s darker, on account of the brown sugar, heartier, on account of the whole wheat, and bolder by the degree of an additional half a teaspoon each vanilla and cinnamon. The whole wheat flour is on its best behavior, here. Like in these cookies and this snacking cake, it does its thing quietly, adding a nutty warmth to the cake without weighing the whole thing down. Meanwhile, the brown sugar makes the cake taste rounder, fuller, richer, as if you’ve sneaked an invisible something caramelized into the batter. There’s an earthy sweetness to this version, and I like that a lot.

So, about last week’s cake: P.S. – Make this one, too.

Jess’s Teddie’s
Adapted (again) from The New York Times, November 4, 2007 (Originally published, September 30, 1973)

1 c. whole wheat flour
½ c. all purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. baking soda
¾ c. vegetable oil
1 lightly packed c. dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. peeled, cored, and thickly sliced apples (I used a combination of Jonagold and Cortland.)
Heaped ½ c. walnuts, chopped
1 Tbsp. Demarara sugar (optional)

Oil and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Dump the packed brown sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and unpack it with a fork. Add the oil, and use the fork to moisten all of the sugar. (If you skip these first steps, the brown sugar will get pressed up against the sides of the bowl instead of mixing with the oil.) Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Meanwhile, sift together the flours, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda in a medium bowl. After five minutes, add the eggs and then the vanilla to the oil and sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is creamy.

Add the dry ingredients into the sugar, egg, and oil mixture and stir by hand until just combined. Fold in the apple slices and walnuts. It will look like a lot of apple and not enough batter, but it all works out in the end.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, sprinkle with Demarara sugar if you'd like, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out.

Serves 8-10.

11.02.2011

I recommend Teddie's

Some things I’ve learned since Mia’s come on the scene:

1. The following things I can do with one hand: Eat cereal. Unwrap popsicles. Put on shoes and socks. The following things I cannot: Pull my hair back into a ponytail that stays. Floss.

2. Cucumbers dissolve. When left to their own devices in the crisper drawer for six weeks, they dissolve.

3. I’ve learned what moms are for. You might think that, having had a mom for a few decades now, I’d have figured it out a long time ago. But until mine showed up just minutes after Mia was born and, for the next two weeks, left no meal uncooked, no pile of laundry unwashed, I had no idea. Not really. I’ve never needed my mother more than I did those first couple of weeks home. And not just for the steady supply of perfect scrambled eggs and clean underwear. It’s hard for me to put into words the kind of care and compassion I needed, and how she so quietly, carefully made sure that I got it. Suffice it to say that without her, Eli and I would have been very different parents in those early days. About a week into her stay, I heard my mother say to Eli that she was worried about being in the way. “Laurie, you are the way,” Eli said. Amen. It’s no wonder I cried when she left.

4. Breastfeeding: Not as straightforward as one might think. And that, I promise you, is all I will say about that.

5. It is very important to have friends who cook. Friends who do cook, I should say, who show up at your door with trays of meatballs, all manner of soups, one quiche for supper, and one for the freezer, too.

6. When the tiny creature who has come to live with you is three weeks old, it’s time to bake an apple cake. The simplest one you can find, preferably. It should also be delicious. I recommend Teddie’s.


The recipe for Teddie’s Apple Cake first appeared in a New York Times article by Jean Hewitt in 1973. Amanda Hesser published it again in the Times in 2007, and again when it made the cut for The Essential New York Times Cookbook that came out last year. The recipe is, of course, Teddie’s. And while we don’t know anything about this Teddie, not even a last name, one thing is clear: whoever Teddie was, Teddie knew her (his?) cake.

There is nothing surprising about this cake. Apple meets cinnamon, meets walnut, meets sugar, eggs, and flour. An obvious combination, if ever there was one. Classic is classic for a reason, though. Teddie must have gotten that. The cake is made with oil, not butter, which caught my attention because I like the texture of most oil-based cakes: the way the crumbs cling to each other only lightly, as if trying not to touch at all, how when you mash your fork with the slightest pressure into the last bits on the plate, they stick. In some ways, it’s a delicate cake, but thanks to so much apple and a craggy upper crust, it feels hearty, too.


Teddie’s cake is an everyday cake, which is to say that it’s simple enough that you don’t need a special occasion to make it. It’s icing-less, and not too sweet and, in this case, so packed with fruit, it’s practically health food. But my favorite thing about everyday cakes is that, almost without fail, they are also anytime cakes. This one is, for sure. Eat it for dessert with loosely whipped cream, for breakfast, for second breakfast, or for those unnamed meals between pages written, or phone calls returned, when a quick stroll through the kitchen is only civilized. Yes, when it’s time to bake an apple cake, I recommend Teddie’s.

Teddie’s Apple Cake
Adapted from The New York Times, November 4, 2007 (Originally published, September 30, 1973)

The original recipe is for a large amount of batter that bakes in a 9-inch tube pan. I shied away from that for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t have a tube pan. But moreover, tube cakes are huge. I’m all for everyday cake, but if I’m going to eat a cake every day (and, as we’ve also established, anytime), I need to be able to slice off a wedge every now and then that’s significantly smaller than the state of Texas. Plus, there are only two of us here – two cake eaters, anyway – and this cake would be a terrible thing to waste. If you’d prefer to make the original whopper of a tube cake, double this recipe, use 3 eggs instead of two, and increase the bake time to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The recipe here is for one 9-inch round cake. Finally, the original recipe calls for 1 cup of raisins, but I omitted them because I thought that they might make the cake too sweet. If you decide to include raisins, add them when you add the walnuts.

1½ c. flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. baking soda
¾ c. vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
2 c. peeled, cored, and thickly sliced apples (I used a combination of Jonagold and Cortland.)
Heaped ½ c. walnuts, chopped
1 Tbsp. Demerara sugar (optional)

Oil and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda in a medium bowl. After five minutes, add the eggs and then the vanilla to the oil and sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is creamy.

Add the dry ingredients into the sugar, egg, and oil mixture and stir by hand until just combined. Fold in the apple slices and walnuts. It will look like a lot of apple and not enough batter, but it all works out in the end.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, sprinkle with Demarara sugar if you'd like, and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out.

Serves 8-10.