I was going to post a pasta dish this week – it’s really good and summery but still creamy and light – but I just couldn’t bring myself to suggest that you turn on both your oven and your stove. I don’t know about you, but we are in the middle of a heat wave. It’s another heat wave, or maybe it’s the heat wave we’ve kind of been having all summer despite a couple days last week. We have established a system of closing our windows around noon when it starts to get really hot outside, turning on the air conditioning when the inside temperature gets unbearable, and then opening the windows in the evening once the outside temperature is lower than inside or maybe if there’s a slight cool breeze blowing by.
On days like this, I can’t imagine eating anything hot. In fact, I would prefer that everything I ate was cold and crunchy, preferably also maybe juicy or with a little tang or spice to it. These toasts almost fit that bill – no juiciness really (unless you include the cucumbers that I GREW IN MY OWN GARDEN – sorry, I’m excited), but lots of crunch from the sliced vegetables and tang from the miso cream cheese. You do have to turn on your toaster, but it’s worth it, I promise.
There is that time of year when all you want to feed yourself is fresh, crunchy, cold (or maybe room temperature) food. The time when you are drinking more cold beverages than you thought possible. And when you are going to backyard gatherings or picnics in the park. That time of the year is now and all I want are things that are stuffed with fresh herbs from the garden, salty, tangy, and maybe a little spicy. Luckily, this simple salad satisfies all of those cravings.
How simple? First, throw a bunch of herbs, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar into a food processor. Toast your couscous until it is golden, then cook it with broth to give it some extra love. Sauté the asparagus and peas for just a few minutes, until they have just a touch of color but are mostly a vibrant green. Top all of this with crumbled feta for a touch of salty briny tang, and enjoy. Don’t worry, you’ll have sauce leftover to drizzle over any thing hot off the grill.
I’m going to be honest folks. It feels a bit challenging to write about summer and my garden and produce when the world is falling apart. But here we are. I know, pea blintzes can feel trivial – they do to me too. I can’t spend 100% of my waking hours reading articles and calling representatives and being depressed about the state of the world, so I am doing my best to act like everything is normal and it’s all going to be fine. Despite the fact that at the moment it’s looking pretty bleak.
Now that we’ve got that depressing shit out of the way, I guess let’s talk about my garden. That sounds fun doesn’t it?
I feel like I’m in produce overdrive! Between our expanded beds and the CSA we have this year I’m having trouble keeping up with the lettuces, greens, peas, and radishes. I’ve been eating salads for every meal and adding sautéed collards or bok choy to everything I make. When shelling peas started coming in from my garden, these blintzes popped into my mind and I wasn’t able to get them out. I don’t recall eating that many blintzes as a child, but I know it happened, and that they were a treat filled with sweet cheese and topped with fruit. But every since eating blintzes stuffed with mushrooms at Malka’s chanukah pop up, I feel like the world of savory blintzes is a whole new world.
My little garden didn’t produce enough shelling peas for a full batch, so I supplemented with some frozen ones, steamed them with some lemon juice, layered them on top a creamy spiced cheese filling, and wrapped it all up in pillowy crepe-like pancakes. The result was just this side of savory, delicate and lovely, a dish that could be eaten at brunch or for a light dinner.
When I was younger and we went out to a sushi restaurant, my parents would make us order a salad. This salad was usually mostly iceberg lettuce, topped with a neon-orange clumpy dressing, and I loved it. I loved how crunchy and bright it was. I hadn’t really thought about that dressing until a year or two ago when Saveur‘s recipe for it popped up on my Facebook feed. I made it immediately and was SO HAPPY.
These days there is always a jar of the stuff in my fridge since it can be used for pretty much anything. How do I use it? Most often to top my grain bowls with whatever random assortment of vegetables and proteins I’ve got around. I love using it to dress a simple salad with whatever greens I have in my fridge (romaine, baby kale, and baby spinach are the usual suspects) and topping it with sesame seeds. Or I drizzle it over my lazy breakfast of crisped leftover rice and a fried egg, plus some hot sauce and everything bagel seasoning. The point is, if there is an opportunity to use this dressing, I do.
There is a weird thing about being a food blogger. You compose pictures just so that none of the mess in your kitchen shows. You (mostly) never write about all the recipe testing and research. And you definitely don’t write about the failed attempts. And then there’s the stuff like, I made this and took pictures about 2 weeks ago, but am writing the post in Chicago. It all feels a bit weird, you know? Like I’m pretending, or I’m creating this fantasy world where everything is clean, and everything works perfectly the first time I try it. But I want you to know, that’s not true.
Another weird thing is knowing where to draw the line between keeping the writing here light and fun and ooh look tomatoes! Do I talk about my personal life? How far do I go? Last year when I was traveling, I certainly wrote about being homesick, and that got personal. But do you really want potentially heavy, personal stuff amidst pretty pictures of pastries?
The point of all this, I suppose, is that I’d like to be a bit more real. I want to not worry about there being a mess in the background of my pictures. And I’d like you to know some of those things about myself, and I’d like to feel safe writing those things in this place. So in that spirit: I’m getting married in three days! It’s big and exciting and for some reason scary and also very normal at the same time. What is really changing? Nothing. It feels like such a big step, but for now most things will stay the same, except that I’ll wear an extra ring on my finger and my taxes will change. We’ll still eat dinner too late, I’ll still listen to my favorite Pandora station when I bake, he’ll still take me out to dinner where the restaurant is a “surprise” but I’ll actually give him a list of three to choose from. And you’ll still be here, maybe, reading about all of it.
This meal was one of those ideas that was marinating in my head for a while. I’m trying to get better at making a few blog recipes at a time so I have content ready to publish, but it can feel overwhelming. He has been ever supportive, asking while we’re making dinner, “Wait, do you want to photograph this? Go grab your camera!” He waits while I set up the shot, he oohs and ahs over the pictures after I edit them, and he still proofreads almost every post. This galette was the epitome of summer to me, and the last recipe I photographed before we came to Chicago to get married in his parents’ back yard. I made it while he was at soccer, and waiting for him to come home and eat it, I realized how cool this all is, how cool he is: encouraging me to continue to write and cook and photograph, pushing me to try new recipes, offering me a safety net when things don’t go as planned. This tomato galette? It’s my love note to him.
In summers past I have felt disappointed in myself. I wake up to find that Labor Day has arrived and I haven’t made enough pies, snuck rhubarb into enough desserts, or eaten enough berries. I didn’t take advantage of the deep red tomatoes or experience that joy that washes over you when you cut into a melon to find that *yes it is perfect*. This summer has not been one of those summers. This summer I am oh so proud of myself. Maybe it’s finally having a garden that really got me in the summer produce spirit. Maybe it’s the fact that, now that we don’t have roommates, I have a whole fridge that I can pack full of these beauties. I have been stuffing our meals to the brim with whatever is seasonal and bright.
I’ve started hearing the rumblings. I’m sure you have too, or maybe you’ve been the one whispering about your excitement for sweaters, for long pants (which I’ll admit sounds appealing), for changing leaves. And while I am definitely ready for my apartment to not be 90° every afternoon (thank goodness for the air conditioner we got last week), I am not ready to let go of all this beautiful produce. So I’ll keep relishing it until you can’t smell the peaches the moment you walk into the produce section at the grocery store, until the tomatoes are no longer juicy just under their shiny skin. But while you have the tomatoes and the heat, I recommend breaking out your grill to make this grilled tomatillo salsa to snack on on those hot afternoons. The spice will make you sweat, but I hear that’s cooling anyway.
It was a mashup. A mashup of colors: neon orange, sunset purple, creamy yellow. A mashup of recipes: lots of research, a few ideas, a smattering of ingredients already in the fridge. And a mashup of an event: bachelorette party meets Disney princess themed meets actual edible meal. My best friend’s bachelorette weekend was a whirlwind of events and cocktails (coming soon to the blog, don’t worry), celebrating this wonderful woman and her marriage to another one of my best friends. I’ll get all sappy about them in the next post though. I was tasked with throwing a Disney princess themed dinner party at my house – we dressed as Disney princesses, there was a photobooth, lots of Cinderella-blue (her favorite princess), pumpkins, and more. Above you can see the table and some of the princesses with Cinderella herself at the head of the table, plus the wonderful Moana using her oar to keep all the bees off our fish.
In my effort to create a feast that was edible and kind of went together, I fudged a little bit – Arial probably wouldn’t normally eat salmon, she’d be friends with the salmon. So this was my riff on Rapunzel’s carrots and hazelnuts (in the movie she eats parsnip and hazelnut soup) topped with Jasmine’s tahini sauce. It was my favorite dish at the dinner, and I was happy to find some of the tahini sauce leftover in my fridge a few days later. So I recreated it here – there may be less Disney flare, but there is just as much flavor.
My cooking these days feels torn. On the one hand, we’ve been having people over for dinner all the time and when we do, I take it as an opportunity to make those dishes that are just a bit too much of a production for any old night with me and Jonah (i.e. anything from my newest and also favorite cookbook Six Seasons). On the other hand, when it is just me and Jonah I tend to turn to what I have in the fridge. This is a great practice, but when I go to the grocery store, I generally buy the same things for weeknight dinner staples: I pick up some tofu, mushrooms, peppers, leafy greens, onions, occasionally some sweet potatoes, and a bulb of fennel if I’m feeling fancy. These ingredients most often turn themselves into a rice or soba noodle bowl because, well, we love Asian flavors, and it’s simple enough that we don’t have to think about it too much before it can become dinner. But the key to any good rice or noodle bowl is the right sauce.
In my recipe box that sits in my spice drawer, I’ve got at least 3 different asian marinades/sauces. They all have roughly the same ingredients, with a couple extras thrown in or substituted. They are ingredients that are used almost daily in my kitchen: soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, garlic, lime juice. Occasionally there will be honey or maple syrup, sesame oil or miso. But this sauce, the one below, it’s different. Instead of being the base sauce for a meal, it’s a sauce that I keep in a small jar in the fridge. I drizzle it on a plate of food when it needs an extra kick, that beloved tingling on the lips, the gentle burning on the edges of your tongue. It’s not too hot – you can still taste all the ingredients in it because the heat is just at the right level where the flavors don’t get lost. I put it on noodles and rice bowls, but I also put it on fried eggs in the morning, orzo salads that need a little jazzing up after a few days in the fridge, and an afternoon snack of avocado. It has gotten to a point where I like to always have a jar on hand, should the need for it arise. And the need does arise. It always comes in handy.
There are some foods that have such a sense of place. For me, scallops take me back to the first time I gathered the courage to taste them – my dad had doused them in a carrot sauce – on the back patio of my childhood home. Deeper n’ ever pie takes me to my mom’s kitchen. Beer bread takes me to my apartment, senior year of college, my friend Rosie and I standing in the kitchen, waiting impatiently for the bread to cool so we could eat a slice. Annie’s mac n’ cheese takes me to the early days of my relationship with Jonah, standing in his college kitchen, scraping the pot of the tangy cheese sauce to procrastinate on our studies.
Hummus was never a food I loved growing up. I never understood why you would purée beans and then dip dry, bland pita chips in it. I would’ve rather eaten broccoli dipped in ranch, or Doritos, or almost anything else you would find hummus next to at the food table at whatever party you were at. It was cold, thick, and grainy, and seemed like a punishment to have to eat. I avoided eating it mostly until the past few years. I remember a hike that my dad and I went on, and we took a little tub of Sabra’s roasted garlic hummus to the top of Little Si outside Seattle and nearly polished the whole thing off. From then on, Sabra was the standard for me: rich, creamy, and smooth. At parties, I stopped avoiding hummus altogether, but I never really sought it out.
When I went to Israel a couple years ago, I knew I was going to eat the best hummus of my life. And I did, four times over. I ate hummus dusted with za’atar, hummus slathered in olive oil, hummus sprinkled with ground lamb and pine nuts, and hummus dolloped with roasted mushrooms. I would go back to Israel just for the hummus, eaten in the Jerusalem heat, watching the city bustle around me as I sat licking my fingers. When I got back from that trip, I started making my own hummus – I have become a snob about it, and I futzed with Ottolenghi’s recipe until it was as close as possible to the plates I scraped in Israel.
Well friends, this is the last post from my time in Thailand. Although I’ve been gone from the country for a month and a half now, the fact is that after this post I’ll be done writing about it, looking at pictures constantly, revisiting notes, and all that. But in a way I saved the best for last.
As a birthday present for me, Kylie and Walt got the four of us a class at Ton Gluay Thai Culinary Heritage, a cooking school that Kylie found on a blog all about life in Chiang Mai. They contacted Ice, the woman who runs the school, and got us set up for an afternoon class to take place at Ice’s house. The cool thing about this class is that instead of rushing you through making four different dishes, you pick one dish to make from scratch. One of the dishes we hadn’t yet made in any of our cooking classes was the infamous Chiang Mai sausage, or Sai Ua, that we had eaten (and loved) on many occasions. It was spicy and juicy, with strong flavors of cilantro and lemongrass. Now, I’ll admit that making sausage from scratch isn’t necessarily the most appealing thing to me – intestines have never been high on the list of parts I enjoy eating or handling. But I was determined to try something new! So the class was scheduled and we were on.
When Jonah and I pulled up to Ice’s house on our motorbike, she and her boyfriend Eric (from New Jersey) were sitting out front, waving us in. Perhaps the first thing you notice about Ice is her petite but incredibly strong frame – turns out she and Eric are starting a gym in Chiang Mai and do lots of weight training in their yard. But the second thing you quickly notice is her voice. Ice is Thai but studied in Scotland and has also spent some time in the U.S., and because of this her accent is fascinating and hard to place. The way she said “cool” was so great that eventually all four of us started repeating it after her. If you want too hear what I’m talking about, you can check out the podcast that Jonah and I have been making and listen to the episode that features Ice’s class.
As I mentioned in my last post, Thailand is seeming more and more like a distant memory, especially now that our friends Kylie and Walt have left Chiang Mai for the next leg of their adventure. But there are some things that have faded less than others, and Wee’s delicious food and her megawatt smile. You can read more about how we met Wee and our cooking class with her in this post (and make some pumpkin curry soup, while you’re at it.)
These fish cakes were a dish that Wee surprised us with at our cooking class. She wanted us to make an appetizer, and one that was a little more challenging and involved than a Thai style omelette, so she picked this. We hadn’t eaten them at any of our previous meals at her restaurant, and I instantly regretted that when we tasted them during our cooking class. The fish is subtle, tender, but the cakes themselves are airy and crispy. But really the star of this dish for me was the dipping sauce. We made our own sweet chili sauce – a simple task that I plan on doing a lot more when I get home – and then poured it over cucumbers and shallots and topped it with ground peanuts. This fruity sauce was light and crunchy, matching so well with the fish cakes. But it also lent a refreshing acidity to the fried fish cakes. I can easily imagine using the dipping sauce at many a summer BBQ to top grilled chicken or salmon. But first, try it with these fish cakes.
I should be working. You see, in about 10 hours I’ll be getting on a plane to Bangkok, sleeping in a hotel, and then getting on a 12 hour flight to Cologne, Germany. And I have a few items to cross of my checklist before I hop that flight. Instead, I want to tell you about Wee.
We discovered Wee’s Restaurant thanks to friends Zita and Jeremy, who found it via Trip Advisor (oh man do I have a love/hate relationship with that site, but that is for another time). We first ate at Wee’s in early November, and then we kept returning, and returning. My dad was the one who observed that she had a cooking class, and so I handed Wee my phone, she found herself on Facebook for me, and we started messaging about when we could do the class and what dishes to make. A few days later, we ate our Thanksgiving dinner at her place, and then a couple of days later Kylie, Walt, Jonah, and I spent 9 hours in her kitchen cranking out her amazing dishes.
What won me over was Wee’s wing bean salad with shrimp. But as I tried more and more of her dishes, I fell deeper and deeper. They were unique, unlike dishes that we had at other restaurants in Chiang Mai. They tasted more complex, more interesting. You know when you can taste that something has been made with care and, dare I say it, love? That’s how Wee’s food tasted to me. Between that and Wee’s sense of humor and her infectious smile, I knew we would get along.
It felt like we made a majority of Wee’s menu in the kitchen that day, but we truly only scratched the surface. This pumpkin soup that we had on Thanksgiving was one dish that kept me coming back. The pumpkin is sweet, the coconut broth a little spicy from the curry paste, and herby from the kaffir lime and lemongrass. And the best thing about it that just as I was eating it in warm Chiang Mai, I could imagine my friends back at home making it to warm themselves up.