Book report

I have been devouring Tamar Adler‘s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace before bed, which might explain why I have been waking up famished. I really can’t recommend it enough. People often compare Adler to M.F.K. Fisher- patron saint of food writers- although I can’t attest to that because I am afraid I will knock myself- or Half-moon- out if I fall asleep reading the tome that is my copy of The Art of Eating in bed.

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I love that Adler makes me feel guilty for not pickling my kale stems. I love that she has the sensibility of a Depression-era housewife, often using the same pot of water four or five times for different purposes. I love that she writes things like this:

“I recommend buying a bunch of parsley whenever you can. Then, once you have it, act as children do when handed hammers and suddenly everything needs pounding.”

I love that she sounds like an eighty-year-old woman tucked into a Tuscan hillside but is really a thirty-something woman residing in a small apartment in Brooklyn (of course.) Most of all I love that she seems to believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved with stale bread and good olive oil.

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She keeps all of her food in glass jars and cooks all of her vegetables on Sunday. She turns her lemon peels into citrus syrup to mix with cold seltzer to make homemade soda. She pickles her kale stems. Adler gives advice so simple I want to slap my head and say Of course! Like how you should taste your food at every stage of the cooking process and that it should always taste good (it doesn’t taste good? add salt!) Reading this book has made me think twice about a trip to the store, instead improvising with what I already have. And it’s made me wonder why I don’t eat more meals like sauteed greens on toast. With parmesan cheese. And olive oil (of course.)

Adler also addresses a question I have often wondered when reading cookbooks and food blogs: When is a recipe borrowed? When is it “adapted?” And when is it your own? According to Adler, there are no original recipes, which reminds me of one of my father’s favorite sayings, “The last person to to have an original idea invented the wheel.” So here is a recipe. I made it up. Or I adapted it from one I read on Smitten Kitchen, another New Yorker doing incredible things in a tiny kitchen.

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This recipe utilizes the vegetarian workhorse, lentils. It also has a potato and a dressing made with lemon (or vinegar) and cilantro (or parsley.) Serve it with good bread and a glass of red wine. It’s comforting and wholesome. I think Tamar Adler would like it.

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Warm Lentil and Potato Salad with Capers

Ingredients

1/2 cup French green lentils
1 Yukon Gold potato, cooked and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 or 3 kale leaves, washed, dried and chopped into thin ribbons
1 garlic clove, smashed and made into a paste with a little salt
1 small chunk of onion, sliced into thin pieces
lemon juice and/or red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
olive oil
a couple of tablespoons of capers (I don’t rinse them)
a bunch of cilantro + stems (or parsley), chopped
feta cheese, optional

Directions

Cook the lentils in a small saucepan on the stove until they are tender and water is absorbed (keep warm.) At the same time, cook the potato in a separate pot- cover the potato with water and cook until you can easily poke a knife into it (I have a bad habit of undercooking potatoes.) Keep the potato warm, too (I just let it sit in the pot of warm water and damn I just realized I should be telling you somehow you can use the potato water for another meal.) Meanwhile, make the dressing. Place the lemon juice (or vinegar) and sliced onions in a shallow salad bowl and let sit for a few minutes. Whisk in the garlic paste, mustard and olive oil (taste it!). Add the capers and kale (taste it!) Next add the cooked lentils, cubed potato and chopped herbs (and crumbled feta cheese too, if you are using it.) Toss this all together and taste it! Adjust the seasonings, if you wish, adding salt or black pepper. (Or more lemon, capers or herbs- remember, it should taste good.)

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According to Adler, M.F.K. Fisher said you don’t always have to balance each meal, just the day. Apparently Fisher used to frequent a beer hall where she would make a meal of cheese, onions, caraway seeds and crusty bread. I am so happy I found these women.

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The year of the plant

2016 seems to be the  year of the plant. I keep seeing Michael Pollan’s quote (eat food. not too much. mostly plants.) everywhere. NPR ran this story and The New York Times Food section this week has a luscious-looking roasted cauliflower on the front page. And after almost canceling my subscription to Bon Appetit after they ran this ridiculous story in their December issue (I don’t know about you, but I always wear my best dress and pout my red-painted lips while searing halloumi cheese), they seem to have redeemed themselves this month by denouncing the artisan bottled water trend (there is organic birch tree water?), loving lots of fresh herbs and including plant-forward recipes that I can’t wait to try (like this one! and this one!) I am normally lousy at eating lunch, so I decided to start the new year off right with a grain-based salad made with a lovely winter root vegetable: the beauty heart radish. Crunchy, peppery and hot pink; the beauty heart radish is a great way to brighten the grayest of winter days.

And while cauliflower is getting a lot of attention these days, I have been obsessing over celery. And so is Half-moon, who stopped and cooed at the green stalks as I whipped them out of the fridge and onto the cutting board, pausing to let him reach out and grab at the leaves. (Speaking of leaves, make sure they get into the salad too- 2016 is also about cutting down on food waste.) While my grain of choice- chewy spelt berries- cooked on the stove, I mixed up a dressing of lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil and cilantro. Add in a little tangy, salty feta and- poof!- you have a hearty, healthy lunch. Leftovers are delicious, too.

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Beauty Heart Radish and Celery Salad with Spelt Berries, Lemon and Feta

Ingredients

3/4 cup cooked spelt berries (for more on cooking spelt berries, see this post)
2 stalks celery (leaves too!), chopped
1/2 beauty heart radish (cut away the bitter peel), chopped
juice from 1/2 lemon
lemon zest
handful of cilantro, chopped
olive oil
pepper
handful of feta cheese

Directions

Cook spelt berries. Meanwhile, whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, cilantro in a big salad bowl. Add the celery and radish. Let the spelt berries cool to room temperature and toss them into the salad. Add feta cheese and season with pepper, if you like.

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I hope 2016 finds you following your path. Happy Nu-Nu! Wink wink.