New Beginnings

Dan and I moved last week.  Away from our urban family, out of our historic neighborhood, and to, well…not quite the suburbs.  We are still technically in the city but our proximity to the suburbs isn’t counted in miles but in blocks.  It’s all very residential and the nearest restaurants are all…chains.  Yikes.  But despite the suburbanness of it all, we are very happy with our new location.  We have lots of trees and birds (I saw a woodpecker a few days ago) and we have more space and this new apartment has great lighting at dinner time.  Here is the proof.

DSCN4277[1]Salade Niçoise, always a favorite

OK, so there was a little glare. But that darling gem of a dinner was made with our first CSA vegetables and eggs from our first seasonal trip to the farmer’s market.  It was as beautiful to eat as it looks in that photograph.  And its simple beauty, and the streaming sun, and the birds singing in the trees out our window made every bit of the dinner as joyful as any day I can remember.

Even our two year old, with rays of sunshine flowing through her hair, loved to eat it.


Here she is showing off one of her tomatoes.

The beginning of CSA season, a new home, my birthday next week, and a new baby in two months or so. Our life is full of new beginnings right now.  May they all be as full of love and happiness as this simple dinner was.


Week Six: Basil Four Ways

This week we received a half pound of basil. That’s quite the load of basil, even for the most ardent pesto-lover (there remains some in my freezer from last year). And I, unlike my uber-generous family member, Jeff, refuse to give away any of my daily pick-up, most especially, items like basil. So….we have basil four ways.

1. Traditional Pesto: Pretty basic, basil, parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt.


Easily stored for later use by freezing in ice cube trays.

2. Greens Pesto: My recipe is any green mixed with any herb, garlic and olive oil (nuts are optional). This week I had kale (two ways, to be precise. haha)



With which I mixed green onion, a jalapeno, basil, olive oil, garlic and salt.


And then added it to scrambled eggs…making one of my favorite breakfasts….green eggs on (gf ) toast.


3. Caprese Salad: This is certainly an iconic summer taste for me. This weekend I had to find a way to transport it to be eaten poolside. It worked-ish.



4. White bean- Quinoa Salad: This was a “throw all of the leftovers in your refrigerator together” sort of dish that turned out well!  It’s simply cannellini beans, red quinoa, basil, parsley, peppadew peppers, green onion, carrot, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. A vegan, gf, summery salad that can sit poolside for hours without turning! (An essential requirement for our weekend.) Today I re-purposed the leftovers into lunch by placing them on a bed of lettuce and tossing some toasted nuts on top.



And that’s basil four ways. There are so many little beauties found in summer, if only we have eyes ready to see them.



Week Five: Go-to Stir-Fry

I’ve been given a wok. Which means that everything appears as though it has potential to become something asian. This week I had a gluten-free, grain-free friend coming to visit, and our pick up included these lovely items…..

IMG_2840[1]So stir-fry was the obvious choice. A few notes about the go-to stir-fry: 1. Just throw in whatever you have! This time I tried garlic scapes, and they were delicious! A great alternative to green beans, with more flavor. 2. Be sure to cook each vegetable separately in a little bit of oil…it will take a few minutes more, but is well worth it considering each vegetable has it’s own cooking time. (Unless you’re a huge fan of mushy peapods and raw carrots in the same dish.)



3. After the veggies are cooked, add your choice of protein (I scrambled eggs) and then pour on your sauce (I picked up on this order of operations by watching the culinary wizards at Mongolian BBQ. In all seriousness, though, adding liquid while stir-frying creates a steamed product, instead of a flash-cooked one, learned that lesson several times over.) My sauce was pretty basic: tamari (soy), sesame oil, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic and sriracha.



And then I garnished with some sauteed shrimp and cashews….we tripled up the protein sources since she isn’t able to do rice.

IMG_2849[1] That’s it for this week, friends! Perhaps next week will bring less culinary laziness. 🙂




Week Four: Minted Chimichurri

As I drove home from the CSA truck this week, I noticed cilantro, green onions and garlic scapes peeking out of my City Feed and Supply bag. (A gift from one of my best friends who has allowed Brookline, Mass. to become a second home to me these past two years). I realized I had leftover parsley and mint from dinner with my grandmother at home…and wondered if I could pull all of these herbs together in some way.


Chimichurri came to mind, and was exciting for two reasons….1. It’s rare to find an accompaniment for grilled meat that doesn’t include gallons of high fructose corn syrup. 2. We (Orthodox folks) had been fasting from meat for about two weeks, and the prospect of breaking the fast with a big hunk of animal and a delicious sauce sounded great.

First, I sauteed the green onions and garlic scapes in olive oil, with salt.


Then I tossed the mint, parsley and cilantro in the food processor with the scapes and the green onions, drizzling in more olive oil and lemon juice as it blended.


And added red pepper flakes after it emerged.


Because of the mint in the sauce, I wanted to maintain a Middle Eastern theme with the rest of the dish, so I marinated the meat in red wine, lemon juice and garlic, and braised the bok choy and radishes (also from this week’s pick-up) in a pomegranate juice-sumac combination (which made a yummy drizzle later as well)…and served them with pine nuts and olives, of course.


Then a friend arrived, with homemade sangria, and we broke the fast together, outside, held by the warm summer evening. As we ate, I recalled something I had read recently, written by Saint Augustine, “My will was perverse and lust had grown from it, and when I gave into lust, habit was formed and when I did not resist the habit, it became a necessity.” I realized, after considering this passage, that I want as few “necessities” in life as possible. I also realized that I love my church…for giving us opportunities many times throughout the year, to discipline ourselves, to break habits and redefine that which is essential.



Week Three: Perfecting Greek Potatoes and a no nap Sunday

I have a friend whose signature dish is greek potatoes….essentially oven roasted potatoes seasoned with olive oil, salt, garlic and oregano with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice right at the end for that gastronomic magic that occurs by doing so. This week’s CSA gave us oregano and garlic scapes…I fantasized all week about indulging this carbohydrate nirvana on the weekend. Then my mother called, informed me that my grandmother would be in town, and implied that I should make dinner….I’d be sharing greek potatoes with everyone.



We received some chard as well, so I made some horta for us to munch on while I cooked. Horta, a favorite dish from my time in Crete, is essentially lightly boiled greens with salt and lemon juice. It’s probably supposed to be a digestif (to borrow from cocktail vernacular), but it feels to me a great way to prime and cleanse the body for eating…sort of kombucha-esque.



On to the potatoes…..I parboiled them first, for about ten minutes….



Then placed them in the oven with the chopped scapes, oregano, olive oil and salt at 450, until they were tender.



And when they emerge, crispy, carmelized little wonders, the lemon goes on.



The obligatory kebabs and labneh (I threw in horiatiki for good measure) accompanied the potatoes…the sort of food we eat with grandma. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of my grandfather this week, and realized I don’t have any memories of him that include food other than labneh, kibbe, grape leaves and kebabs. Funny, these things that you don’t realize until years later.




Sitting with my grandmother outside and talking before dinner was sobering. I haven’t seen her in a few years, and she is aging. Which I suppose is inevitable, but is an insidious thing, easily forgotten in the futility of every day life. She tires easily these days. At one point my mom yelled out from the house “Mom, do you want to take a little nap?” My grandmother leaned toward me, grabbed my arm and yelled to my mother “No! I won’t nap while my Manda is here!” It struck me, this kind of love. I realized that I have only understood this sort of longing with certain lovers….not wanting to sleep for fear of missing a moment with them. This is how my grandmother was talking about me. I was transported back to memories of my situ (this grandmother’s mother) calling us “lover” as children….something that was completely normal to me until I grew up, told a few people, and realized not every situ uses semi-erotic language in reference to her offspring. It as well prompted me to think of the stories of great mystics who describe intimacy with the divine as consummation.  And mostly, it made me realize that grandchildren may be to grandparents what lovers are to one another. And in that moment, where I might have been tempted to get up, check the potatoes, taste the labneh for spices for the hundreth time, I chose to remain seated, and tried to be as with her as I could possibly be. And then, in Arab woman fashion, we began making jokes about our noses and our breasts, and laughed wildly together.



Week Two: Bacony Braised Bok Choy

Bok Choy has been making regular appearances at our farmer’s truck. As such, we decided to find something fun (apart from stir-fry) to do with it.



Enter bacon. (Bacon = FUN)




I threw together a little braise concoction….(apparently bok choy is always ‘asian’ in my mind, because tamari, sesame, garlic and ginger were the backbone of this one. I’ll work on freeing bok choy from these ethnic stereotypes in the future.)




After creating said stereotyping sauce, one should  place the beautifully organic boy choy and carrots, cut side down on the bacon grease and let them sizzle in those saturated fats for a while.




Then flip them, and add braising liquid, which will bubble and thicken into something you want to pour on top of your veggies……



….along with bacon pieces and coarsely crushed almonds until the vegetables are unrecognizable and hiding under a blanket of highly caloric and only marginally healthful meat, and Omega3’s….




And then serve it alongside a beautiful, whole fish that your urban family member made in preparation for ITALY THIS SUMMER!!!! (We’re expecting many an opportunity to cook a whole fish, so are refining our skills now.)




And then, in a slight wine haze, think about that fish’s opaque eyeball maybe a little more than one should. Until next week, friends…


CSA Season 2014, Week One: Lots of Lettuces and Spanakopita Pizza

CSA season is upon us again! As with seasons before, this first week brought many greens. Our share consisted of something like: green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, kale, bok choy, spinach, mixed greens, green onions, oregano and dill. One of my favorite parts of CSA life is sitting down with your share and allowing menu ideas to form. This week I realized (Grand Rapid’s Festival of the Arts prompted my epiphany) that I haven’t had spanakopita since becoming gf. This is a travesty. So…I set out to make a gf version….which morphed into Spanakopita Pizza.

I realized that I had all of these ingredients hanging out in my fridge, just begging to be able to kalamatianos together.

I realized that I had all of these ingredients hanging out in my fridge, just begging to be able to kalamatianos together.

I began by sauteing onion in butter and tossing in the oregano. IMG_2675   Then I added the cream and allowed it to bubble and thicken. I wisked vigorously at this point, although the picture doesn’t relay that. One shouldn’t underestimate the import of a vigorous wisking. At the very end I cracked an egg into it for good measure. IMG_2676 I sauteed the spinach, kale, and mixed greens with olive oil, salt and garlic. IMG_2678   Then I added the two pan’s contents together, pulsed them in the blender, and added the fresh dill as well as about half a lemon’s worth of juice. IMG_2679   Finally, I spread the mix on a gf pizza crust, crumbled some feta on top and baked it. It’s been a while since I’ve had spanakopita, but the taste was a familiar one….and flooded me with memories of black beaches, mastic and monasteries with icons which had no beginning and no end.