Slow-Cooked Vegetable Dinner + “An Everlasting Meal”

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and Tim and I are taking our CSA box back to the car, a heavy bushel filled with watermelon, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers and yellow squash. Our usual routine has been to unload this share at home, turning some into dinner with a simple salad or something roasted, storing the rest of it away on the counter or the fridge to be cooked and eaten as the week goes on. But today, instead of setting things aside, I’m cooking it—all of it—one thing after another, often in the same liquids or roasting juices of the previous pan. With two months left on our CSA, I’ve been reading Tamar Adler’s book, “An Everlasting Meal,” and, as most home cooks who’ve read it would tell you, the way I use vegetables—actually the way I use almost everything in my kitchen—will never be the same.

Polaroid_vegetables

I first heard of Tamar Adler, and her book, in May, through an email from my friend Kendra. In the midst of what she called a “life-changing book,” Kendra was writing from her kitchen, where she’d just boiled vegetables, one right after another, in the same big pot, then layered them with leftover rice and roasted pork that “sent [her] through the roof in euphoria.” All the scraps went right back into the same water, boiling steadily for about an hour, after which she took a sip so good, tears came to her eyes. I didn’t know much about Tamar Adler back then, hadn’t read the New Yorker article she would later write about Julia Child, hadn’t caught when people like Tara from Tea & Cookies or Tracy from Shutterbean were talking about how wonderful she was. All I knew, in May, reading a note from a friend, was that Tamar Adler’s way of using vegetables was so mind-blowing and beautiful that it could evoke tears of joy—and so I promptly clicked over to the Nashville Public Library system, became #54 or so in line and, waited.

polaroid_book

I started reading “An Everlasting Meal” less than two weeks ago, just before we went away for my birthday. I continued reading it on the seven-and-a-half-hour drive down, the three-hour drives to and from Louisiana, the seven-and-a-half-turned-nine-hour drive home. Hearing Tamar’s advice is like talking to a woman who’s been cooking a long lifetime, filled with wit and wisdom gained from years of trying different techniques. She reminds me of my grandma, who knew foods so well, she didn’t have to consult recipes; and of Tim, who’s wowed me since we met with his ability to make a restaurant-worthy dinner when we have nothing in the fridge.

polaroid_vegetablescloser

Tuesday in the kitchen, the outside light growing dim, once all my vegetables are washed and drying on a towel on our counter, I push trays of salted, chopped, oiled eggplant in the oven, alongside rounds of potatoes. A pot goes on the stove to boil water for tomatoes, which get cored and skored with x’s on the bottom, plopped into water for eight seconds so their skins peel right off. Then into the same water go six or seven large potatoes, which I’ll eventually throw in the fridge to have when I need them (which turns out to be two days later, when I’m in a rush to a friend’s house for dinner and Tim and I throw together a potato salad).

Then, in my largest, deepest skillet, I warm minced garlic in olive oil and butter, adding half a green pepper, chopped. Next goes all the diced eggplant that wouldn’t fit on my baking sheet to roast and some leftover chicken broth I poached eggs in that morning. I chop the three boiled tomatoes and add them next. Last are fingerling potatoes, diced smaller than I’ve ever diced them, so they’ll soften fully and well.

polaroid_dinner

Tim’s been gone this whole time, at a work meeting, and when he arrives home two hours later, he steps into the kitchen with a smile on his face. “Something smells good!” is how he greets me, and after he helps me clean up, after we salt and pepper the vegetables, then salt them again for taste, we dine on leftover roasted chicken topped with our slow-cooked vegetable hash, the fridge now packed with glass tupperware and mason jars filled with roasted eggplant and potatoes and green peppers and radishes and tomatoes—all of which will contribute to quick meals for the next few days.

Sitting across from him at the table, we take a few pictures in the chandelier light, join hands and shake our heads. This rustic spread before us, the combined byproduct of chicken broth (which I made from roasted chicken bones yesterday) and today’s CSA vegetables and a few hours of time, is, without question, one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed all week.

(And there’s more!) Once we’ve eaten our fill, the leftovers go into a mason jar in the fridge, providing us an intensely flavored mixture of vegetables now marinating in their own sauce, ideal for blending or eating again with pasta later on. All of the odds and ends from chopping didn’t go into the trash but were saved in a pile to add to the water once the potatoes finish boiling. We cook them for hours until they’ve created a dark, rich, mineral-heavy vegetable broth now stored in our freezer.

The subtitle of “An Everlasting Meal” is cooking with economy and grace—and, right now, looking at our plates at dinner, the fridge stuffed with ready vegetables, stock boiling long on the stove, I want to cry with Kendra at how good and right and practical this all is.

Tamar Adler, reading your book has been the best kind of cooking school, such an education and a gift. I will be reading it for months and years to come. Thank you.

Read More

Peach Pizza on Kefir-Soaked Spelt Crust

Ready-to-Bake Kefir Spelt Pizza Crust

The month of August has been a quiet one for us. Expected guests had to cancel at the last minute, plans changed and, while you’d think this would be the sort of thing to discourage us, in fact, it’s been the opposite. We’ve been dealing with the wide-open weekends of Tim’s homemade pancakes, afternoons spent writing, evening walks in the park, impromptu trips to thrift stores or out for tacos. The weather’s even cooperated, moving from the abrasive 100s to more reasonable upper 80s, making it a little easier to enjoy cooking in the kitchen again. For years, Tim’s told me about his homemade Chinese food, and this August has been his chance to take a few hours in the kitchen to show me. I’ve baked cookies without recipes. We’ve slow-cooked vegetables via Marcella Hazan. And not once, not twice, but three times, we’ve made homemade kefir-soaked spelt pizza crusts, topped by peaches and spinach and goat cheese.

Tim and the Pizza

In so many ways, August has been a contrast to the months before it, in which we’ve hosted out-of-town guests or traveled ourselves, and, to make up for the hours we’d be missing, worked double-time beforehand. In the same way that you appreciate your sophomore English teacher so much more because you disliked your freshman one, we’ve been basking in the beauty of this August and its slow, steady schedules.

Sliced Spinach, Peach & Goat Cheese Pizza

Most Tuesday nights, we share dinner with Tim’s brother, Nathan, who lives about a mile or two away, in the house where Tim lived before October. Every other week, by the time he arrives, we’re also unpacking our biweekly CSA haul, a tightly packed bushel box of yellow squash and watermelon and sweet corn and tomatoes and so on, which we pick up from the 12 South Farmers Market held late Tuesday afternoons. On one particular week, we’re pulling away from the market, not yet home, when I catch an image on Instagram of a peach-topped pizza. Despite the loot in our back seat, we beeline for the grocery.

At home, we launch into our biweekly routine, Tim slicing up watermelon that we snack on while we divvy up the goods. Meanwhile, I mix together a pizza crust, letting it soak in the warmest spot above our oven.

Slice of Spinach, Peach & Goat Cheese Pizza

By the time Nathan arrives, the August sun is lowering, the house enjoying that late-summer twilight that turns everything golden and dim, and two pizzas are in the oven, one on a stone and one on a baking sheet.

Spinach, Peach & Goat Cheese Pizza

That first time is magic: crackery crust, sweet and soft peaches, the tang of goat cheese mixed with drizzles of honey. We eat it on the sofa, piece after piece after piece, the three of us flipping through channels on TV, occasionally interrupting the programming to marvel at the way the crust holds up or the way the edges have a faint hint of Saltine.

Peach Pizza on Kefir Crust

When Nathan leaves, it’s barely 8 p.m., so Tim and I clean up the dishes and put away the leftovers and take a drive, headed nowhere in particular, off to enjoy a lazy summer night, with nothing to do. I say to him, This August has been like one long date!, enough that I almost feel guilty!, and he says to me, I know.

Read More

Honey-Glazed Peach Spinach Salad

Tim and I live in the downstairs of a 1940s-style house; I may have mentioned this before. If you walk into our living room from the front porch, you see built-ins around the fireplace, stuffed with the combined libraries of 20+ years of separate lives: a few textbooks, many novels, the guidebook and accompanying tapes for a ‘How to Speak Italian’ course. For the first few months we lived together, the mantel between these shelves was completely bare; December brought a $5 fresh pine wreath from Aldi, which we left mounted weeks past New Year’s; we finally threw it in the fireplace in February, planning to watch it burn, but it’s still sitting there. In its stead are perched a giant canvas engagement shot, a few framed prints and a wooden letter “M” I spray-painted white in a few Pinterest-driven weeks last winter.

3 fresh peaches

Besides the ottomans and the rug, everything in this living room is either from our previous apartments or hand-built by Tim; that’s true in most of the house. The leather couch: from his old apartment with two other guys. The coffee tables: my former nightstand and Tim’s former filing cabinet. As we usher you through to the dining room, we’ll give you the biographies of the entertainment center (built a few weeks before the wedding), the dining table (finished in those days when I was in Chicago making wedding favors) and the buffet (brought to our house just after we got rid of our first Christmas tree).

It’s a small and cozy two-bedroom, just the sort of place you’d think of when you think young newlyweds. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm, with beat-up hardwood floors, painted but paneled walls, white crown molding and natural light brought in through lots of windows—at least one in every room.

Fresh peaches and baby spinach

While you’re sitting at the table, we might tell you how last summer when we toured apartments, this place was last in the long line of possibilities we looked through and, by far, the best. I’d kept a list back then, with all the things we’d hoped for in our future home: an extra bedroom, a garage, windows in the bathroom and kitchen. This place had every one. And sometimes, still, we can’t believe we live here.

After we hand you your plates, piled high with baby spinach and roasted peaches and goat cheese, we might whisper that we’d stay forever if it weren’t for the smell of smoke filling our bathroom lately or the strange phenomenon we witnessed when our neighbor removed items from our trash can and took them to his backyard (!), or the growing desire we both have to plant a garden and, to watch it grow.

Baby spinach on plates

We talk to you from the kitchen, a white, 100-square-foot galley-style space with gray laminate countertops and a floor our landlord laid before we moved in (chosen primarily, we think, because it’s the cheapest kind they sell at Home Depot). There’s a white stone bowl with red tomatoes to the left of the sink and a handful of peaches set beside it.

Tim and I cooked together when we lived in different states and would visit for quick weekends; we cooked together when we lived in Nashville in different houses and traded dinners at his place or mine; but now, in this little house, we cook together constantly, swapping tasks and sharing chores for every meal.

I wipe down the counters one last time before we join you at the table, and Tim reaches into the fridge, past spinach and Pecorino and yesterday’s zucchini fritters, to grab the water pitcher, which, we apologize, is for some reason, the only drink we have on hand today.

Honey-Glazed Peach Salad for Two

Around the table, sitting at mismatched chairs beneath a vintage glass chandelier with cobwebs on it, we look at our plates, like we do most nights, and they’re as colorful and full as any from a five-star salad course in town.

Honey-Glazed Peach Salad Plate

Closeup of Honey-Glazed Peach Salad

With you, we give thanks. Because if any part of our simple, newlywedding life is mature and adult-like and settled, it’s not our careers or our furniture or our savings plans—in truth, we’re more likely to buy extra produce than new stocks—sitting before the spread before us, enjoying it with you, we know, it’s this, the way we eat.

Read More

Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart [+ slave-free tomatoes]

tomatoes on vine

I’m an elementary kid, spending a few summer days at my grandma’s house, and when she says she wants to make sauce for dinner, I know it means stepping from the dining room onto the back porch, down steps to the yard and its back-corner garden, where we’ll pull ripe tomatoes straight from the vine. The first time I ever see tomatoes growing in the ground and not stacked up neat and shiny at the store is in this yard, the same yard where my brother and I fight with water guns and talk to the the neighbor’s dogs through a chain-link fence and step on massive ant hills in the holes of Grandma’s concrete driveway.

__________________

Over 20 years later, I’m an adult, and I’ve grown other plants and I’ve stepped in other yards, but still, when I think of tomatoes, I think of Grandma’s garden, the one bordering her lilac bush and the neighbor’s fence, and of the weeks of harvest it would give each year. And lately in Nashville, as our Tuesday pickups are piled high with tomatoes—orange, red, yellow; big and grape—I hold the box of them, inhaling their scent, which is as much summer as it is that plot of land in Maywood, and I think what a gift this time of year is, what a blessing filled with rich fruit, tomatoes that are not even worth comparing with what you find at the store in January, not even close.

tomatoes

So in the midst of this, when Nicole says to me one Friday afternoon, in a quick email conversation about risotto and cooking and tomato jam that, hey, speaking of tomatoes, you might like to know about this, referring to the upcoming campaign she’ll be launching, through her organization The Giving Table, to have food bloggers come together to encourage some sort of change to end slavery in Florida tomato fields, I’m kind of confused.

All I can say is I didn’t know—because maybe I’m one of the rare Americans who had never read Mark Bittman’s New York Times article last summer; never heard of Barry Estabrook’s book when it came out; never crossed paths with someone talking about International Justice Mission’s summer program, “Recipe for Change,” a campaign to end slavery in Florida’s tomato fields.

chopped tomatoes

But Tim and I get reading articles and seeing statistics and saying to each other, This is insane! We were just in Florida! It’s happening here, not three hours south of where we laid by the beach! And I’m getting that horrible sick feeling in my stomach, the one that comes from seeing you’ve been unaware, from seeing what you have not seen—that it’s not just better-tasting tomatoes I’m getting when I grow them in a garden or pick them up from a local farmer or buy some at Whole Foods; it’s tomatoes that have been fairly harvested, without slavery, abuse, mistreatment and other tragedies that are occurring now, here:

A third of our fresh tomatoes are grown in Florida, and much of that production is concentrated around Immokalee (rhymes with “broccoli”) … The tomato fields of Immokalee are vast and surreal. An unplanted field looks like a lousy beach: the “soil,” which is white sand, contains little in the way of nutrients and won’t hold any water … Unlike corn and soy, tomatoes’ harvest cannot be automated; it takes workers to pick that fruit. And not only have workers been enslaved, they have been routinely beaten, subject to sexual harassment, exposed to toxic chemicals (Estabrook mercilessly describes the tragic results of this) and forced to wait for hours to find out whether they have work on a given day. Oh, and they’re underpaid. – from “The True Cost of Tomatoes,” Mark Bittman, The New York Times, 6/14/11

Mariano Lucas Domingo discussed being locked in a tomato box truck for 15 hours one day by his employer, Cesar Navarrete. The Immokalee farmworker had to find his way out, he said, and then help others. – from “Brothers Receive 12-Year Prison Terms in Immokalee Human Slavery Case,” Steven Beardsley, Naples News, 12/19/08

roasted tomatoes

The idea behind today’s campaign is that bloggers are donating their posts to raise awareness for a very real problem of oppression. Some facts:

  • Over the past 15 years, there have been seven cases of forced labor slavery successfully prosecuted, resulting in the release of over 1,000 people being treated unfairly in U.S. tomato fields.
  • IJM’s Coalition of Immokalee Workers has developed, along with the tomato pickers themselves, what’s called The Fair Food program, which works against the slavery, child labor and serious sexual abuse happening in Immokalee, Florida, by setting clear standards against them.
  • Supermarkets and fast-food chains and other retailers who join The Fair Food program pay a little more ($0.015 higher per pound) for their tomatoes, but are guaranteed they’ve been fairly harvested.
  • What The Giving Table, with International Justice Mission, wants to accomplish this summer is for more companies to sign this pledge, so that as purchases shift from fields improperly treating workers to those adhering to fair standards, the issue of slavery can be abolished.

grape tom_roasted tom

Would you consider raising your voice to do something about the issue of abuse happening here in America? McDonald’s, Subway, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have already endorsed the pledge, but many major retailers have not. Here are a few ways to help:

  • With your pocketbook: Buy tomatoes from local farmers—or from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, both of which are already on board with the Fair Food program.
  • With your computer: Take two minutes and send a message to execs of the major supermarket chains yet to sign the pledge, asking them to change their stance. (It’s as simple as filling out your name/email and hitting send)

tomato tart from above

In light of Recipe for Change and today’s campaign, Food Bloggers for Slave-Free Tomatoes, we’ve created this roasted tomato and goat cheese tart, made with tomatoes grown right here in Tennessee, from the local farm that supplies our CSA.

tomato tart on the table

For more information on slavery happening in American tomato fields, visit the websites of The Giving Table, Recipe for Change and Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Read More

Chicken Pot Pie + ‘Dinner: A Love Story’

lynnville

It’s a hot and sunny Saturday and we’re on our way to Lynnville, a sleepy little town that you could live in Tennessee all your life without hearing of, but which today has drawn our attention because of an ad I saw somewhere for a blackberry festival. The whole trip, I’m reading to Tim from my latest library find, and right away, we’re both so into the stories about food and parenting and the world of magazine editing that before we know it, we’ve driven the entire hour, past hilly pasture land and giant barns and no places to use a bathroom, anywhere, and then there’s Lynnville, right before us, rewarding our travel with what turns out to be the very anti-climactic main street that today boasts one carnival booth, four craft tents and, off in the corner, a 85-year-old man selling tomatoes.

No. Blackberries.

None.

tomatoes

So we talk with the tomato man, who tells us he’s lived in Lynnville all his life, and we ask him about blackberries, and he says, no, there aren’t any, but you know, he used to pick them when he was a boy, and we buy a bag of his produce, and he gives us a green pepper for two quarters, and we’re back in the car.

We say to each other, laughing at the wasted hours in the countryside, well, at least there were tomatoes! but then I pull out my book and we remember: actually, at least there’s this.

potpiewmom

It’s a week later that I finish “Dinner: A Love Story,” the Saturday night we’re flying home to Chicago, just a few minutes before we board the plane. About 80% of the book I’ve read aloud to Tim, either that day to and from the no-blackberry blackberry festival or in the five or six nights following, before we fall asleep at night. Part cookbook and part memoir, it comes from Jenny Rosenstrach, the former Real Simple editor who blogs at a site by the same name. I wasn’t a follower before I read the book, but I am now: after reading Rosenstrach’s stories, which are as much about food as they are about parenting, as much about gathering around the table as they are about building relationships, I feel like she’s someone with whom I’d like to be friends.

closeup_potpie
potpie_vertical

While we’re in Illinois, my mom says to us one morning, I have some chicken, what should I make? And I jump from my chair. I know exactly the thing! I tell her. And I run upstairs to my suitcase to pull out this book, to flip to the chicken pot pie recipe, the one Rosenstrach has been making since the early days of marriage and entertaining and which she has been known to monogram for a real wow factor for her kids.

chickenpotpie

My mom makes it and it has the same effect: I eat three pieces. And later that night, my brother wipes the dish clean. So when Tim and I come back to Nashville and we’re making dinner for friends, it’s this recipe that we turn to, making it the night before and just sticking in back in the oven for 15 minutes before serving.

potpie_sliced

The thing about chicken pot pie is it’s comfort food. It’s hot and it’s creamy and eating it feels like you’re nine years old again, cradling a cup of chicken soup—but it’s even better! with a flaky crust!—so while I know it’s July and it’s humid and many of us are heading to the pool or the beach or the lake house, and so salads and grilling and fresh fruit sounds more like the norm, bookmark this one (rainy days or not!) because it’s good.

slicedout_chickenpotpie

Oh, and while you’re at it, bookmark “Dinner: A Love Story” and make it a must-read. I’m so glad we did.

Read More

Sweet Tomato Jam + Grilled Cheese

tomato jam

I am sitting here at my computer screen, imagining you, at the office or on your iPhone or skimming through your Reader, asking myself what I can possibly say to accurately communicate to you the importance of today’s recipe, and I’m thinking about the reality that you are probably doing ten other things right now, that while you are deciding whether or not to keep reading or click away, you’ve also got a Word doc up; your email inbox, open; if your kids aren’t crying, they’re about to. You and I both know that just because it’s Friday, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a to-do list, physical or not, on your mind for today, and you’re trying to remember things and wanting to go get jobs done, so when you click here for a second and I ask for your attention, even with a photo like this top one, I know it’s not an easy sell. I know what I’m up against. But listen, please hear me on this one if you’ve never heard me before and will never hear me again:

You want to hear about this tomato jam.

Once more, in all caps, the way my mom types me emails:

YOU WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THIS TOMATO JAM!

tomatoes and Herbivoracious

Now that we’ve got that settled, let me explain. Because in response to the 30 new Twitter updates you’ve missed just in reading the beginning of this post, in defense of the time you’re spending here that could be spent in any number of other places, I am offering you something totally worth the trade off. This is not like when the cable company said your bill would go down or when the dentist said the filling would be no big deal—this stuff is the genuine article, the real thing, the kind of pearls that will actually feel gritty when you rub them along the edge of your front teeth.

tomatoes in a bag

This tomato jam is July. It’s outdoor picnics while the sun sets. You could think of it like the bottled version of long summer nights and roads lined by cornfields, as spoonfuls of Saturday morning farmer’s markets and months of no school, when the weeks stretch out before you, late morning after late morning, and you go to the pool and the lake and your friends’ houses and everything smells like cut grass and hot asphalt and your neighbor’s rows of flowers.

tomatoes tomatoes

And look, you don’t have to believe me, but to say that this tomato jam will change your life is no exaggeration, not after you watch what happens to a pound and a half of freshly boiled, peeled, sweet tomatoes (tomatoes you picked up from a roadside stand if possible, for $2 a pound) when they’re combined with onions and basil and honey and spices and left to simmer the long, slow simmer that releases their juices and breaks up their shapes and turns them into what is roughly the equivalent of tomato gold.

Pure gold.

tomato jam

This is the tomato jam I’ve dreamed of making ever since I opened Michael Natkin’s new “Herbivoracious” cookbook, which arrived at our doorstep a few months ago. It’s the tomato jam worth spending your fresh garden tomatoes on, the tomato jam to watch transform on your stovetop and find yourself remembering what it is to be amazed.

tomato jam + grilled cheese

You can slather it on roasted portabello mushrooms, fresh off the grill; put it on your morning toast, alongside your eggs; sandwich it with raw mozzarella and fresh basil on buttered sourdough, sauteing them into a grilled cheese that tastes like July evenings outside Spacca Napoli in Chicago.

In other words, like avocados and like summer and like love, this tomato jam is something to celebrate—for its ability to surprise you, for its pure magic, for its rare and uncanny ability to not only make good on its promises but, to be better than you dreamed. Make it; try it ; it will be worth your time.

Some housekeeping: Food Loves Writing underwent a little makeover this week, so if you haven’t clicked through in a while, now would be a great time. We’re still working on some changes, but for now, there’s a revised header, a new sidebar, some new organization —and feedback is welcome, so let us know what you think or if you have any questions!

Read More