I don’t know about you guys, but, for me, the days that follow Thanksgiving are, no contest, the least inspired days, cooking-wise, all year long.
I don’t know about you guys, but, for me, the days that follow Thanksgiving are, no contest, the least inspired days, cooking-wise, all year long.
I realize two days before Thanksgiving is not exactly the ideal time to post a Thai chicken recipe, not when the majority of cooking America is, at this very moment, abuzz with turkey, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie. But, forgive me, I have this habit of assuming all of you out there aren’t so different from me, and so I figure maybe you’re also two days away from attending a delicious Thanksgiving meal in another state, one that’s so completely out of your hands, you already know all that will be expected of you is to show up, maybe chop a vegetable or two. In that case, finding another Thanksgiving recipe is not the pressing issue on your mind, but, what to make for dinner tonight, the night before you fly home, is—and so here’s something easy and quick.
The truth is, even if I were in charge of the meal on Thursday, that would only mean remaking a dozen or so of the same dishes my family eats every year: turkey and potatoes and green beans, maybe a gelatin mold and some homemade cranberry sauce. Can you relate to this, too? Last year, my mom added sprouted dinner rolls she found at her natural grocery store, and I’ve heard stuffing has been taken off this year’s list, but, overall, our Thanksgiving meals are pretty predictable. In this social media world of the latest and greatest and newest and best, predictable can sometimes seem like a bad thing, but, in truth, when it comes to the holidays, predictable means the stability and security of annually gathering around the table to do the same thing we’ve done every year—and that’s something I find as comforting as looking through old baby albums or hearing my dad make his coffee in the mornings when we’re home.
Whether you relate to our routine or not, whether Thai chicken must stay off your radar until at least Friday or whether Thanksgiving isn’t even on your calendar, let me offer this recipe today anyway. If you’re leaving town tomorrow and want something foolproof for dinner tonight, this is the recipe. If you’re shopping all day Friday and want something easy to come home to, just have someone turn this on two hours before you do.
But mostly, if you’re that kindred soul I always write to, the one who has also tasted Thai chicken curry—and maybe, like me, for the first time with friends this summer—and found it to be so good, so just-the-right-amount-of-heat, that you regularly find yourself craving it, remembering the slight burn on your throat, you’re going to love this.
The recipe comes from one of my old Nashville roommates, Sara (not to be confused with my other old Nashville roommate, Sarah), who posted a picture of it on Instagram recently, and, in response to my comment, emailed me the ingredients and directions with a, “I hope you make this. like now! It’s AMAZING!” added on.
Tim and I ate it last week, shared some with a friend, and, then, ate the remainder for lunch the next day: every time, it had us reaching for water glasses with smiles on our faces. Quick and simple, with the fire of the curry paste, the kick of the ginger and the cool splash of lime squeezed on top, it’s going to be my go-to Thai curry recipe every time the craving hits from now on (and, Thanksgiving week or not, that’s always now).
Happy holiday weekend, friends! Hope you know how thankful we are for each of you.
Sometimes I don’t feel like talking about food. I feel like posting a pretty picture.
I took the above shot last month in Huntsville, Alabama, the town where my college roommate Kim lives and where I met her for the afternoon one Saturday. She treated me to high tea at this fancy little shop, and then she drove me around the area’s historic neighborhoods, letting me ooh and ah at the architecture, and to this park off the highway, where we climbed into the woods and looked out through leaves at the parking lot and, off in the distance, the hills of her hometown.
Tim was away in New York that weekend (you’ll remember his happy homecoming here), and I was missing him, so when I came back to the empty house that night, I was glad to be so tired from driving and touring and eating little scones, because at least that meant I would fall fast asleep, a skill usually reserved only for the male half of this little family, and fall fast asleep is exactly what I did. The next day, he was back, and we ate filet mignon and kale mashed potatoes, and by evening, he was sound asleep beside me the minute his head hit the pillow and, thirty to forty minutes of heavy late-night thinking later, so was I.
There are many things I tend to envy about my husband, not the least of which is his soft, wavy hair, but his sleeping ability is becoming one of the great marvels of our married life. Whereas I need to wind down after a day of work or social activity or drama-filled TV, Tim simply climbs into bed, shuts off the light, and he’s out. Gone. Dead to the world. It’s amazing. We’ve had many long, hilarious conversations about this, wherein I try to prompt him to describe for me what this feels like or how it works (or, ahem, see how long I can keep him awake with me). And over thirteen months of marriage, what we’ve essentially concluded is this: sleeping is one area in which he will likely always have the upper hand.
Indian food, on the other hand, is another story.
I may be the one who’s half Indian, but, in our marriage, Tim’s the one who first loved Indian food. When we were dating, he took me to Sitar downtown, and told me to order his favorite dish, Chicken Makhani (or, butter chicken), and garlic naan. The moment those glistening pillows of garlicky dough arrived on our table, followed by a creamy, spicy chicken mixture I all but licked off the solid white plates, I knew an important change had just occurred. I could never go back to the person I was, one who sometimes tolerated but never especially loved Indian cuisine. From that point and forever forward, I was all in.
We went back to Sitar to celebrate a month of marriage and then again to celebrate two months. More than once over the last year, at random times when the fridge has been lean but the spice cabinet full, Tim’s whipped up a curried dinner out of celery and carrots and rice, leaving me speechless, every time, eyes welling up with tears that such a meal could come from the simplest ingredients and, more than that, that the man who could bring them together was the same one laying next to me each night.
But over time, he’s taught me a few tricks of the trade, and I’ve become more heavy-handed with heat in my cooking, and now one of our regular dinners is a bunch of chopped vegetables, sautéed on the stove and mixed with spices and cream, the kind of thing that just slightly burns your throat as it goes down, a mysterious proof that sometimes the simplest (and cheapest!) foods can make the best meals.
Similar to the butter chicken that first wooed me into this curried world, Chicken Tikka Masala is a classic entrée at Indian restaurants that relies on a tomato-based creamy sauce and a blend of fragrant spices. There is no shortage of recipes for either of these dishes online, but our version has one great advantage going for it: it’s fast. The day I wanted to make it, I had leftover roasted chicken in the fridge and a desire to make a meal as quickly as possible, so I wanted a nuts-and-bolts set of directions to use as a guide instead of a ruler.
Over at Serious Eats, I found this:
“The basics of masala sauce are simple: start with a base of aromatics—onions, garlic, and ginger are common—cooked in oil, ghee, or butter. Add a simple spice mixture, largely based on cumin, coriander, and chilis, throw in some canned tomatoes, cook them down, then purée the whole deal with heavy cream and fresh cilantro.” J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer, Serious Eats
A bunch of chopping, a little sauteéing and less than an hour or so later, we had this meal on our plates, my version of following the general guidelines above. It was easy, it was spicy, and, by the end of the meal, it had us wiping the skillet and wooden spoon clean, wishing for more. I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted not loving this style of food—and I’m glad the one to open my eyes is the same one I sleep next to (OK, he sleeps, I think) every night.
There are people who don’t believe in making a big deal about birthdays, but I’m not one of them—and I have my brother to thank.
My brother, Adam, who is two years and two months younger than I am (but if you heard us together, you’d swear he were the one who’s older), came here to see us last week, arriving around 2 p.m. on his birthday Wednesday and staying through Saturday night. The thing you have to understand about my brother and birthdays is he is kind of the king of celebrating them.
When I turned 21, he took me to a Coach store and told me to pick out one thing I wanted, any one thing, and he would buy it for me—choosing a purse in a store so far outside my price range made me feel like the richest person in the world, and that’s a feeling you never forget. Another year, he surprised me with a party at Ravinia, this outdoor park near Chicago where Tony Bennett was playing for the night. Since then, there have been trips to Maine and, when I was dating Tim, a trip to Nashville, and every year, the building anticipation that my birthday would mean something special and something fun.
It’s his influence that has turned my mom’s February birthday into a family holiday in which we all take off work to do whatever she wants to do, which, last year, meant all three of my family members flying down here to visit together for the first time. It’s his influence that makes me vote for spending Thanksgiving (and my dad’s corresponding birthday) in Chicago every year so I can sit by my dad and tell him why he’s cool. And it’s his influence that makes me want to celebrate anyone I love’s birthday the same way, by saying, Name what you want to do and we’ll do it! I just think it’s such a great gesture, submitting your preferences to someone else’s as a way of celebrating, as a way of showing them love.
So that said, you can understand why, when my brother comes to visit us for his birthday, we want to pull out all the stops.
October brought dark and stormy skies today, which is another way of saying it’s a good time for soup. We made this fiery version out of a heap of roasted vegetables recently, and while the corresponding recipe is posted at the bottom of this post, the truth is that making it is much more about a method than it is about a list of ingredients: roast a bunch of chopped vegetables in oil, simmer them in hot water, pureé, add milk, add seasonings, adjust.
The other truth is that, basically, this is how we cook most days.
See, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that there are two main ways to approach recipes. (I have to say “for the sake of argument” in case any of those of you who are reading here today are the pesky, exacting sort [of which both Tim and I tend to be] and so, when you hear the words, “there are two main ways to approach recipes,” you can’t help it but your mind immediately begins making a case for why there are, in fact, actually at least six different ways to approach it, not two, and once you’ve realized that, you find it’s hard to hang in there through the rest of the paragraphs, having already deemed this post you’re reading to be written by an unworthy source. Listen, you just put those thoughts on hold a minute and rest easy because, right now, we are just talking about this for the sake of argument. Forehead unfurrowed, we continue.)
So let’s say one person gets a recipe, maybe like the one written in this post for an it’s-a-kick-in-your-pants soup, and she looks at her fridge and sees how her ingredients don’t match up with what’s needed and so, she either (a) saves the idea for another day when she’s able to buy everything listed or (b) abandons it altogether.
At the same time, another person gets the same recipe, understands the rough outline of what’s going on, and instead of following it to the letter, she instead pulls out all the carrots and onions, mushrooms, potatoes and zucchini lurking in her crisping drawers, and, experimenting, applies the same strategy to them.
One person caters to the recipe; the other, gets the recipe catering to her.
What’s the difference? Why is one person line-by-lining it and the other, just seeing instructions as a guide? For me, the biggest difference has been time—that incomparably valuable resource that is usually required to learn to do anything, be it speaking a language, riding a bike or handling basic HTML. Do you relate? Has it been that way for you? For me, cooking has been, and continues to be, all about practice, about trying over and over and over again in new ways and the same ways until, one day, you’re making roasted broccoli the way you drive a car, and you’re barely thinking about the way you’re waiting for the smell of crispy florets to tell you when they’re done. The progression from looking at a potato, thinking, how does this become French fries?, to pulling together a meal on the spot is not overnight, at least not for most of us, but usually, it comes.
In our life, Tim and I usually look in the fridge and opt for what’s easy, zucchini to roast and a salad to toss; leftover soup and garlic-rubbed toast; beets (roasted in the CSA apocalypse 2012) to top with goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts. There are times, of course, when we set to making something finer, something bigger, especially when we’ll be dining with guests, and some meals require more preparation, like soaking quinoa or slow-cooking pot roast or preparing a quiche.
But most nights, in our life, we’re throwing quick meals together—not from great skill but from practice, which is the kind of thing I wished I’d heard more often when I was just beginning and, to be honest, which I wish heard from food bloggers and home cooks and great chefs more often. Like a runner or a football player or a businessman, when it’s go time, we’re all mostly drawing on the years we’ve been trying—the failed frittatas and the terrible pie crusts and the cakes that turned gray.
When they happened, the failures were tragedies, but years later, they’re gifts.
Tim went away for a work trip last week, just for two days really, but all the way to New York, putting him not only out of state but also in a different time zone, for the first night (and nights) we have ever been apart since we got married. It wasn’t something we looked forward to, upcoming nights apart like these, and, leading up to the trip, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel dread (or that I didn’t say to him, when I dropped him off at the airport, “Do you think it’s too late to cancel?,” both of us laughing).
It wasn’t that I thought I’d be afraid at night or have nothing to do with myself or break down on the side of the road and not have him to call (OK, a little bit the last one, but only in the same way that I tend to imagine a plane going down once I get on it)—it was mostly that when you love someone, you want to be with them, and I love Tim.
I feel really grateful to have him, and I know I’ve said that before, but I say it again because gratitude isn’t the kind of thing that you can leave on auto-pilot, and whether it’s a good husband or a beautiful September or a dinner that we share with someone we love, it’s more natural to take it for granted than to mark it down.
When Tim came home Saturday afternoon, I think we both let out a collective exhale, grateful to remember we are not each other’s best gifts (and that the One who gave us each other never leaves), yet grateful to be together again. And then, the next day, we killed the fatted calf, so to speak, with home-cooked filet mignons and big salads and mashed potatoes stuffed full of greens.
Then, afterward, in that golden hour when the sun makes everything glisten, we grabbed blankets and sweaters and escaped to the park, soaking up the crisp September air, bright white skies and, mostly, the gifts we’re being given, today.
We brought the camera, and the thing that’s so great about bringing your camera for a few hours at the park is that you get the chance to look through its viewfinder, capture moments through its lens, and mark them down, the way you do when you’re listing things you’re thankful for.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pull so many of us have towards beautiful things, such as the ideas we mark on Pinterest or the stories we scroll through on blog posts or the pleasure I receive from seeing pretty pictures and photography. When I was really sick earlier this year, I would say to Tim, let’s go walk through Anthropologie!, just to soak up the atmosphere and remember there is beauty in the world. You could, I think, look at all this pull and say there’s something wrong with it, that we want to create imaginary lives that are perfect and flawless and fun to look at, all the time, and that doing so ignores the realities of pain and suffering and poverty and despair.
But personally, I think it points to something bigger.
There is something in us, in all of us, I believe, that craves beauty—whether that shows itself in Pinterest folders or fantasy football scores or keeping the kitchen clean. My blog friend Sarah says we crave beauty because we were made for the Beautiful One. It’s not that we don’t see hard things, or experience them; all human beings do, even if in different degrees. We have loved ones die. We fight with our spouses. We experience serious physical pain that shows us how small we are. But it’s just that, in the midst of all of this, we’re also drawn to what’s beautiful and right and good and true. We look for it, go out to find it, hope for it and want it to exist.
I think about that all the time lately, when I’m snapping photos of wild daisies growing in the grass, sidled along a busy road; when I’m setting a plate before me, as colorful as a garden or an elaborate painting; when I’m listening to someone tell me how she wants to make her living room look a certain way. There can be unhealthy motives in these things, sure, as in any things, but a lot of times, truly, I just sit back and think, how good of God to give us pleasures such as these to enjoy.
Pleasures like sunlight in the evening and foothills in the distance. Pleasures like a bed to sleep in and food in the fridge. Family who loves us when we hurt them. Books that make us think.
Gifts around us, all the time.
My senior year of college, while I was student-teaching my way into an education degree I already knew I didn’t want, I had an advisor named Heather. Heather was fantastic. She wore dark-rimmed glasses and crisp, collared shirts, and her short brunette hair was always cut neat and kept perfectly in place. Though I’d never taken one of her classes, I’d known her since the semester before, when one Saturday afternoon we’d both shown up to help a friend paint a new apartment. Moving her paintbrush against the wall like she was Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid,” she’d stood next to me in the living room, nodding for me to follow suit, “It’s like makeup, Shanna: blend!”
Some people who are quick to teach like this can be terribly off-putting, always demanding to be heard, but not Heather. Her brand of counsel combined with an otherwise warm and soft demeanor to make her the best kind of maternal, like a big sister who shared all her secrets. We’d have our weekly phone calls to discuss my kids and how they were taking to “Silas Marner” or what I should do about the funny boys who tried to flirt with me, and she’d have me both cracking up and taking notes while she dispensed adages like “monitor and adjust!” for handling a classroom. I loved her.
Those days are almost a decade ago now, but I’ve known a lot of other Heathers since then, people who have chartered a path in a way that makes me want to follow. There was Kelley who taught me about newspaper reporting; Liz, who showed me how to knit; my dad, who demonstrated firsthand the value in being self-employed. And when I met Tim, he’d stand next to me in the kitchen, baking cookies without a recipe or, putting cucumbers in a jar with water and salt to make pickles—the way hundreds of generations had set the example before us—and I learned what it was to lacto-ferment.
We’ve been doing a lot of lacto-fermenting in our kitchen this summer. This has been in part because of all the vegetables we’ve had on hand, in part because of a few fermentation cookbooks that have come our way. In addition to sauerkraut and pickled okra and garlic carrots, we’ve made a moist and dense chocolate carrot kefir cake, adapted from a zucchini version in “Cultured Food Life.” We’re experimenting with making our own mead as I type, the jar of it sitting at the bottom of our buffet.
Also, there was this lacto-fermented salsa, from “Real Food Fermentation.”
In my world, just as the concept of blending brush strokes came through Heather, the idea of lacto-fermenting came through Tim—but it originated far before us. Lacto-fermentation is basically just the natural process whereby the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit convert to lactic acid through the presence of a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria. It’s been used for centuries, since far before the advent of refrigerators and freezers came along to preserve produce shelf life. Lacto-fermented foods are tangy, delicious and loaded with probiotics, that buzzword you’ll hear us talking about when we say kefir or yogurt or kombucha.
This salsa recipe is, no question, going to be placed on regular rotation in our household, if not for the good bacteria, then for the taste. In the one or two weeks it lasted in our kitchen, we ate this salsa on sprouted corn tortillas brushed with coconut oil and toasted in the oven; piled it on top of tacos from Baja Burrito; and ate it with chips again. It’s hot enough to get your nose running but not so hot to have you crying, and in my book, that’s the mark of a winner.