It’s that time of the year when people who have vegetable gardens and live close to the earth and in tune with the seasons and all that start complaining about zucchini. “I have so much zucchini!” they say. “It’s coming out my ears! Won’t you take some zucchini?” Zucchini bread starts magically appearing in offices, as people try desperately to use up this weed.
I do not have a vegetable garden — I have a vegetable patio, courtesy of Ken, which really means that we grow almost enough tomatoes to keep me in BLT’s, and a few assorted herbs. We also have many pots taken up by useless things like FLOWERS and CACTI, despite my many attempts to get through to Ken that this is a waste of time and space. “Can you eat it?” I ask. “Because if you can’t eat it, then WHY are we growing it?” Ken thinks I am a plebeian when it comes to gardening. I think he is a plebeian when it comes to growing food. The Nuni doesn’t care. She just likes to pick the “teeny teeny teeny maters”, take a bite, then drop them on the ground.
Which is all a very long and blathery way of saying I am not one of those too many zucchini people (and even if I did have a genuine vegetable garden I would not be one of those too many zucchini people because I have a remarkable habit of picking the zucchini when they’re still flowers and frying them and eating them, and you can eat a lot more zucchini when they’re in fried flower form than you can when they’re in fully grown marrow form). However, I do like a good zucchini, and I do take pity on the too many zucchini people, because, really, there is only so much zucchini bread that anyone can eat. [...]
It’s funny how life works. We spend our entire childhoods longing to grow up, so eager to join the ranks of adulthood that we can almost taste it. To a child, the charms of being grown up are many — driving cars, earning money, wearing fancy clothes, eating cereal for dinner WHENEVER YOU WANT TO, being on your own (and lets be frank — alcohol and sex also hold their own lures. And, um, voting?) Of course, a few years into adulthood we find ourselves in the thick of reality – our commute is too long, jobs are hard to come by and difficult to do, we have to wear a suit when we’d rather wear yoga pants, cereal for dinner means we haven’t managed to get anything worthwhile onto the table, and we wish we ddn’t have to be on our own — that someone would just take care of everything for us. (I’m not knocking cocktails, sex or voting, however.)
In the past couple days, I’ve been thinking about one of those childhood pleasures which is rarely duplicated by adults — the sleepover. On a Friday night like this one, I’d go home after school with my friend Stacey. We’d go swimming in the afternoon, rummage around in her glamorous older sister’s room, make ourselves English muffin pizzas for dinner, then lay out sleeping bags on the floor of her family room and watch movies on betamax — Sixteen Candles, the Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and my personal favorite — Some Kind of Wonderful. We’d stay up late and tell secrets, and in the morning Stacey’s dad would make us coffee ice cream milkshakes for breakfast. There’s a special magic to a sleepover — it’s almost as good as being grown up. Making your own pizza! Staying up late! Eating ice cream for breakfast! And of course, those wonderful movies about the perils of growing up, of following your heart, of living in an unfriendly world, that we were too young to really empathize with but loved nonetheless. [...]
My daughter is not the world’s soundest sleeper.
At least once a week I am awakened by a shout (usually for Dada, though I, like all mothers, am the light sleeper, and I am the one who comes running the most often). As soon as I open the door to her bedroom, she [...]
It’s May in Southern California. The mornings are foggy, the jacarandas are in bloom, the days are warm, though the nights are cool, and the afternoons are stretching further into the sun dappled evenings. Aesthetically, it’s a beautiful time of year, but culinarily, it’s a bit of a pickle, especially if you’re in the mood for salad. The butternut squash and cabbage salads of winter no longer satisfy, there’s only so much asparagus you can eat, and lettuce gets a little boring. But summer vegetables – the zucchini, the corn and most of all, the tomatoes, are still a long way off. Tomato salads have been calling my name, but I can’t get anything but a tasteless tomato, and won’t be able to get anything more for a couple of months yet. The solution is the slow roasted tomato. By cooking a standard supermarket plum tomato in the oven at a low heat, the sugars caramelize, the juices concentrate, and what you get is worthy of my favorite summer salad – panzanella (though they’re also terrific in sandwiches). [...]
When did chicken become the thing that we eat? Grilled chicken breasts. Baked chicken breasts. Roast chicken (OK, roast chicken is fantastic, but you get my drift). Maybe it’s the ubiquity, or maybe it’s the Michael Pollan-esque complaint regarding the flavorlessness of industrial chicken, but I get bored with the endless parade of chicken breasts, chicken legs, chicken tenders, chicken strips (though roast chicken is still fantastic). I want my chicken to have a little pizzazz.
This recipe offers the perfect solution to put a little oomph in your chicken. Well, if you describe oomph as a stuffing that has the rich saltiness of prosciutto and provolone cheese, the sharp hit of parmesan and the brightness of lemon zest. This recipe comes from Mario Batali, and say what you like about his clogs, his food show with Gwyneth Paltrow, or the teeny overcrowded waiting spaces at his restaurants, the man can cook. There’s something about Mario Batali’s food that is very satisfying. And this recipe is no exception.
My early encounters with sweet potatoes were of the Thanksgiving variety – candied from a can and topped with marshmallows and tooth-achingly sweet. I was not a big fan. I wanted dessert for dessert, and not for dinner, and if I was going to have dessert, I wanted it to be something good, like chocolate, or at least pumpkin pie.
It wasn’t until I was all grown up and had my own kitchen that I discovered the myriad and delicious uses to which sweet potatoes could be put. (And when I say sweet potatoes, to be clear, I mean thin reddish skin, orange flesh. Sometimes called yams. To be distinguished from the white fleshed sweet potatoes you find in Japan and the Caribbean, and “true yams”). Baked with a little butter and salt, mashed with garlic, or cut into French fries, sweet potatoes offered that lovely caramel sweetness that stands up so well to savoury applications. (I’m still no fan of the sweet with sweet. Unless you are talking about sweet potato pie, which is properly served as a dessert, or the sweet potato cake served up by my husband’s Southern grandmother. My contribution to Thanksgiving is a spicy sweet potato gratin. My grandmother has a conniption about the departure from tradition and then eats it with gusto.)
This lasagna takes the noble sweet potato out of the category of “side dishes” and into the main course, where it rightfully belongs. The goat cheese and basil add a little piquancy to counter the mellowness of the sweet potato flavor, and the mushrooms add an extra oomph of umami.
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