I’ve mentioned before that, though my mother is a fantastic cook, both my grandmothers were truly, ridiculously bad in the kitchen. Vegetables were boiled until they begged for mercy. Meats were blasted in the oven until they were unrecognizable. Even bread somehow managed to become disks of solid brick. (And I’m not talking about homemade bread. Store-bought. And this in the heyday of Wonder bread). It was grim.
So my brother and I always breathed a sigh of relief when our parents stopped at Zabar’s before the family trip to Queens (where we assumed every grandparent in America lived). Zabar’s, to those who are unfamiliar, is an Upper West Side institution. Open since 1934, it’s one of those places that’s almost impossible to describe. It’s a gourmet store but only because it sells things that are now considered “gourmet” but used to just be “food”, albeit for immigrants. Smoked fish, cheese, baked goods like bagels and babka. Items that turned my German-Austrian grandparents positively verklempt.
So we would pick up some smoked salmon, a little sable. Some whitefish salad. Pickled herring that no one ever seemed to touch. Along with cream cheese and a dozen bagels (from the dearly departed H&H, of course), off we drove to the outer boroughs where we’d set everything out on my Nana’s dining table and eat off of styrofoam plates. Even I, a known fish-hater and infamously grumpy child, would schmear a bagel with cheese and lay on a slice of nova.
Sometimes I wonder if we’re quite nerdy enough on this blog. I worry that our readers, steeped as are Westerosian Meisters in the lore of SF and fantasy, will flit from recipe to recipe, searching in vain for just the right clue that, yes, we too know the exact galactic co-ordinates of Gallifrey1, we have read The Silmarillion2 and we have a perfect theory to reconcile, entirely within the Blake’s Seven mythos, Stephen Greif’s depiction of Travis vs Brian Croucher’s3.
Is it not enough to show you our collection of Alan Moore’s 2000AD, DC Comics and Vertigo works, including not only the obvious Swamp Thing, Promethea and Ballad of Halo Jones but early Doctor Who Weekly? Must we dig out our Battlestar Galactica DVDs? Have we not mentioned that we named one of our pets (Arya) after a Game of Thrones character, and another (Bascule the Rascule) after the protagonist in the best of darling Iain M. Banks’ SF (although non-Culture) books, Feersum Enjinn?
This has been the type of week when I’m so overwhelmed that eating frozen peas straight out of the bag seems like a sensible dinner plan. See, it’s efficient because they thaw as you chew them! Unfortunately Matt thinks this is disgusting and that I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself (pops frozen pea into mouth like a badass).
I won’t bore you with the details but I’ll just say this: beginning to edit a new documentary film is a Herculean task and I forget each and every time how overwhelming it is. I’m sure whatever your job is, even if you’re a chef, you have days (months? years?) when having to cook a healthy dinner seems like just too much damn work. I’m here to tell you I get it (I’d point and wink, but I’m just too tired. Please just assume I’ve done it, and I’ll owe you two next time I see you).
That’s when you want to have recipes like this one in your back pocket. It’s easy enough to do with half a brain, but delicious and healthy enough to feel proud of yourself.
A million years ago when I lived in Williamsburg (an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn that has since become incredibly trendy) with my roommate, Paola, we set up a massive garden on the roof of our loft. Being poor artists, we couldn’t afford planters so we used … brace yourselves … caskets. Yes, there was a casket factory across the street and every couple of months, they would throw out dozens of full-size aluminum caskets (for some reason that we never bothered to question). We dragged these crazy things to our roof, filled them with soil, and grew the most amazing herbs and vegetables that ever came out of something meant for a dead person. Of course it must have looked unsettling, all these caskets lined up in rows with plants growing out of them, but we didn’t care. In fact, we had enough sweet Roma tomatoes to make “casket sauce” as we called it (mostly to horrify our dinner guests).
Now I’m a big shot and have a deck and a yard and no longer have to resort to funeral paraphernalia to satisfy my green thumb. This year we’re growing more herbs than ever and for the first time, our sage plant bloomed with the most beautiful purple flowers. Nature, man.
Very early summer can be frustrating for a cook. The garden beds are filled with all our favorite vegetables. We planted six different kinds of tomatoes, chard and kale, loads of garlic, eggplants, tomatillos, jalapeños, broccoli rabe.
But nothing is even close to ready yet. They’re all just beginning to sprout and bloom, so it will be at least a month before anything can be harvested, except for the herbs which are happily taking over the back deck. So while our bounty is bounty-ing, it’s back to the grocery store to see what looks good.
We found pretty, if not very sweet, tomatoes, still on the vine and perfect for a quick roasting. Just 15 minutes in a hot oven concentrated the flavor and turns them jammy and soft. A perfect accompaniment to bright, zingy Chicken Piccata.