The cauliflower I liked best


On a whim the other day, I bought a head of cauliflower. Actually, what happened was: I was in line to checkout at Whole Foods. I had unloaded everything onto the conveyor belt, and saw the woman ahead of me with a head of cauliflower. I thought to myself: hey, — I haven’t bought that in a really long time. Since the woman ahead was still checking out, I quickly backed up my cart and ran over to the produce section (the Wee One was in the cart, or else I would’ve just left the empty cart sitting there). I found the cauliflower, and the deal was sealed when I saw it was on sale. But then I ran into one of the moms from my son’s preschool, and we chatted a minute or two about her recent trip to Mexico. I turned back to my cart, and couldn’t figure out where my groceries had gone. Only then did I remember that I’d unloaded them all onto the checkout belt, and had simply walked away without explanation. I jogged (as fast as I could while wearing clogs and steering a grocery cart) back to the checkout counter, where I found an understandably irritated cashier who looked at me as if she wanted to tell me where I could stick my cauliflower.

Wednesday night, I roasted a chicken for dinner, and had in mind to also roast the cauliflower. I did some searching, and while it’s easy as pie to do, I wasn’t going to be able to roast the chicken and cauliflower at the same time, due to significant differences in heat requirements. No matter, I just did the cauliflower first, and roasted an acorn squash with the chicken. When it came out of the oven, it was so lovely I couldn’t help but take a bite. It was the best cauliflower I’ve ever tasted — roasting has a magical effect on vegetables, and intensifies their flavors, even when those flavors are delicate. It was tender and sweet, with a salty butteriness in each bite (even though no butter is used). I ate a whole wedge, just standing there over the pan, stopping myself from going further because I was supposed to make a quick trip to the gym before dinner (while my accommodating husband fed himself and the kids).

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At least the company was good

Tim and I had a double-blind date on Saturday night. A few months ago, through the miracles of internets, blogospheres, and tweets, I landed on the blog of a girl here in Indianapolis, Angie Six. Many things about her life seemed somewhat parallel to mine: she and her husband had moved to the area from Tennessee; she enjoys food; she blogs; and her husband is a professional poker player (only parallel to my husband’s fantasy life). On a whim one afternoon, I sent her an email. Two months later, we finally met the Sixes, for dinner at a place neither of us had ever been.

It’s a strange feeling, going to a restaurant to meet people whom you’ve never seen. Angie and I had a general idea of each other’s appearance, through blog pics. It wasn’t until we got to the restaurant that I wondered if we should have come up with a secret phrase (i.e., the bird that flies west is hunting the hare), or if I should’ve told them what I’d be wearing. Tim and I had made a reservation, but of course didn’t let the Sixes in on this information (that would be entirely too logical and well-thought out). We sat in the entryway of the restaurant, and when the hostess asked to seat us, we told her we were waiting on another couple. Oh, don’t worry, she said, I’ll just bring them to your table. We told her their names, and went to our seats. About five minutes later, I saw a couple walking through the restaurant, and the woman looked suspiciously familiar in profile. They were seated in another room. Tim and I begin whispering: Hey — I think that was them. Maybe they made a reservation too? What do we do? Go ask the hostess what their name is.  So Tim gets up to go ask, and just about simultaneously, my phone rings. I was being called by Angie, who’d also noticed us in passing, and figured that unless she took appropriate action, we’d spend the evening in the same restaurant but never actually meet.

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The good news is that we finally sold our house in Georgia. Remember? It was the house that we were so confident we could redo and then sell, as a good investment. So much for good intentions; it was a bad time for the housing market, and we bought just before it all started to plummet. We are actually very thankful that the house finally sold; it could have been much, much worse. But now, we find ourselves in a similar position we were in about 7 years ago when we bought our very first house. We have no money, and would like to live in a house that won’t fall down around us. It’s a huge blessing that we ended up in Indianapolis, a city with some of the most affordable housing in the country.

So we’ve started looking at houses. Since this is the third house we’re buying, and since we now have a good bit of experience with renovation, we have a much better idea of what we want, and I usually know from the minute I walk in the kitchen house if it will work or not. If I were to ask my general blog-reading population (you and 15 of my closest friends) to guess what might be my non-negotiables in a house, gleaned solely from information I willingly and somewhat narcissistically share with whomever happens to land at this web address, I might get a list of answers ranging from “big kitchen” to “gas range.” And those are really good guesses; right behind 3 bedrooms and at least a half bathroom more than one (please?). But at the very tip-top of my list — the one thing I absolutely cannot do without — is light.

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Curried lentils, Kesler-style


This dish has been with us for about 7 years — a recipe given to me by my friend Cassia Kesler (of Tomato Pie Fame).  When she gave me a printout of the recipe, that’s what she titled it: Curried Lentils, Kesler-style; not sure what recipe details make it styled as such, but we don’t care about that, we’re just glad to have it in our repertoire.

This is a workhorse of a meal — cheap, easy, filling, and humble. Cassia’s original recipe didn’t call for toppings, but we love to top ours with the same sort of stuff we use to garnish Curried Chicken or Tofu — coconut, raisins, pineapple, peanuts, etc.  So, I guess that would make this dish more accurately named “Curried Lentils, Kesler and Carter Style.”

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I was never a cheerleader (although I tried out at least 3 times… took me that long to figure out that a tall, lanky, muscle-less, introverted, near-sighted nerd a cheerleader does not make) — and somehow that’s apparent even when I try to type a cheer. But that’s what the headline is supposed to be: me, cheering, for the Midwest.

I was in my car sometime last weekend (?) and was listening to Marketplace on NPR. They were doing a blurb on food, in Cleveland: the city that prides itself in giving us The Latest Iron Chef, and is apparently a little hotbed of good eats. They were interviewing the chef of a new, hip local-fare restaurant there (can’t remember the chef or the restaurant, but you could probably podcast it to find out), and he had a bold prediction: that the new wave of American culinary artistry was going to happen right here in the Flyover States. That, with all the surging interest in local and sustainable foods, it will be the cities of the Midwest — the ones that are surrounded by pastures and farmland to supply a small restaurant’s every high-quality locally-grown need — that will start to shine.

Oh, please please please please please let him be right. Pretty please, with local raw honey on top. We have farmland, we have pastures, we have a city that desperately needs to be a part of a New Food Order.

Continue reading “GO, MIDWEST!!!! GO, GO, MIDWEST!!!”

Black bean soup with ham


I do occasionally tire of our old standby recipes, and such is the case with my tried-and-true Brazilian Black Beans from The Joy of Cooking. The last time I made them — a few months ago — I knew I had worn out their welcome on my taste buds. The very thing that I loved about them — their citrus-y sweetness from the orange juice — became too much, too heavy-handed. It hit me like that piece of broccoli in my salad, the one I had to spit out, when I had my very first inklings of morning sickness in my first pregnancy; what I was eating was offensive, in a way it had never been before (but in case you’re wondering, I did not spit out the black beans — I figure spitting out food is something that should be reserved for infants and pregnant women).

I do think (or hope) I’ll someday return to my beloved black bean recipe. But for now, we need a break, so I went searching for something else to do with a pound of black turtle beans. I had a meaty ham bone in my freezer, leftover from the in-law’s at Christmas, and it didn’t take long browsing Cook’s Illustrated to find a recipe that would be a good starting point.

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Culture shock


Of all the ways I’ve been venturing into new and personally uncharted dietary territory, this one has, by far, been the most difficult to explain. Here’s a sample conversation:

Hey, Katy — what’s in that jar?

Oh, that? It’s kombucha.

What did you call me?


Never heard of it.

It’s a fermented tea.

What’s that thing floating in it?

That’s the scoby.

Come again?

It’s kind of like a mushroom.

That’s a weird-looking mushroom. So… you’re drinking mushroom juice?

Sort of.

Hmmm. Had any hallucinations?

Not yet, but here’s hoping.

Actually, no — I don’t hope for hallucinations, nor do I expect to ever have any. This drink is one that has been around for a couple thousand years in various cultures, recorded especially in Russian history. It is, quite simply, brewed sweetened tea that is fermented with a scoby, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast — not a true mushroom at all, but called so because of its appearance. The drink has a broad anecdotal and scientific history of being an all-around beneficial drink: it is full of B-vitamins, anti-oxidants, and glucaric acids. A detoxifying drink, it is also high in glucosamines, and gives a probiotic boost to your immune system.

Most articles I read about the drink admit that there is little Western scientific study to back up its claims: there’s just not a lot of money out there to fund studies determining the effectiveness of a drink that can be made at home for about $1 a gallon. But I have yet to read an account of someone who drinks it regularly who does not sing its praises. Since I’m a probiotic junkie, and since I looked up one morning and figured I needed just one more jar of fermenting foodstuff on my kitchen counter, I gave it a whirl.

I ordered my scoby online, but you can get one for free if you know someone who makes their own kombucha (the culture will make a baby scoby… though this is not as creepy as it sounds). I’ve read accounts, too, of people growing their own from a store-bought bottle (they are sold at most health food stores), but figured it was easiest to drop the $12 on a mail-order sure-thing. Once you get your little guy (I’m not sure why it’s a male pronoun in my head, especially since it’s referred to as the “mother”) in the mail, you need to make your first batch pretty quickly. So don’t order it unless you’re ready to roll. Other than the k-shroom, you’ll need some quart or larger glass jars, some organic tea, sugar, and time to wait.

When I made my first batch, I made one quart. After it fermented for 7 days, I took a bit from that batch and made a gallon. I’m not in a good groove yet; ideally I will always have kombucha fermenting at various stages, and will always have some that’s ready to drink. You can find good directions of how to do it here and here; but if you start looking around, you’ll find there are infinite variations on the process — I just follow the directions that came with my culture.

I’ve been drinking it daily for about a week now — and am really enjoying it — it’s like a slightly sweet, slightly sour tea with a bit of fizz and flavor of fermentation. Some people feel lightheaded when they drink it at first; I didn’t really, but I have felt a small burst of energy. I think it will take long-term drinking for me to really tell if it makes a difference in how I feel. As a person with cancerous and arthritic genes lurking at my every corner, I’m mostly interested in how kombucha can help prevent those degenerative diseases, rather than how it might make me feel on a daily basis.

My almost-four-year old, now seen as the dietary adventurer in our family since he absolutely LOVES my liver paté (and is the only one who eats it), has sipped a bit here and there, and likes it. I think he likes it because he says it “smells like beer.” You would think that if I could get the preschooler to drink it, I could get my husband on the bandwagon, too. But, no. So far, he’s still way back, hovering at the crevasse of lacto-fermented grains. I’m working on a rope bridge to get him across.

So, is this it? Is this, reader, where I lose you?

Let’s hear it for a Lucky 2010


I don’t believe in luck, in a metaphysical sense. It’s kind of like Santa Claus: a fun idea; not real. But just like the idea of Santa, there’s a small part of me that sort of believes (or wants to believe?) just a teensy bit — against my logic and eschatology. Maybe that part of me is the motivation behind a “lucky” New Year’s Day meal. It’s either that, or I simply love a day when the menu is pre-set, and I don’t have to think, I just have to cook.

I’ve been making a classic Southern New Year’s Day dinner  — some arrangement of black-eyed peas, ham, collard greens, and cornbread — for a few years now. And even without truly believing that eating this meal makes the year any better, it makes sense to partake. First, it’s nice to have a tradition, especially when it’s a meal we don’t eat often on other days of the year. Second, it’s cheap, which is nice when you’re facing the first day of a new year — one usually fraught with plans for saving more, being more generous, and the like. Third, it’s pretty darned good for you, and rings in the annual January respite from all the rich, sweet foods we’ve been indulging in just a little more (ahem) since way back in November.

When I awoke New Year’s day, I realized that I had not planned. Wasn’t sure I had black-eyed peas, and knew I didn’t have any collard greens. I dug around in the pantry, tossing about unlabeled plastic bags of various legumes and grains, and found a chalky half-bag of dried peas — maybe leftover from a year ago, purchased for the same purpose in 2009 (and yes, that does mean that I moved across 3 states with a half-bag of dried peas). It happened to be the exact amount of dried legumes I needed — maybe my luck was starting already? — so I set them to soak and went about making sure I had everything else I needed. My goal for the day was to hit as many thrift stores as I could in a 3-hour window of precious time alone (maybe my luck would hit double on January 1, and I’d find that 9-tray Excalibur Food Dehydrator marked $15 at Goodwill!), but I figured I could also squeeze in a stop for collards.

I got to thinking more about luck. If I were asked in a survey if I considered myself “lucky,” how would I answer? My immediate answer would probably be no. And the reason would be because somewhere along the way, my definition for luck became something synonymous with amassing great amounts of financial wealth (with, of course, little or no effort involved). Or, perhaps winning contests and giveaways and sweepstakes. Or maybe going to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and actually leaving with a new driver’s license. Truth be told, I don’t have a history of winning things, I always get a ticket if pulled over, and it might end up costing me several hundred dollars in court fees to get a license (not quite as dramatic as it sounds; it has to do with a nickname that was never legally adopted and unfortunately living in the most law-abiding state in the union). Do these things make me unlucky?

We went to a New Year’s party Thursday night. I heard myself saying to more than one person that I was more than ready to say goodbye to the Decade of the Aughts. One of the people who heard this desire was my husband, who gently reminded me (to the amusement of others) that I was basically wishing away the decade that comprised our entire relationship. Oh, right. Ok, no, it’s not like that. It just so happens that the past decade — the one we rang in with 9/11 — has been personally life-changing in no less than 7 ways (one marriage, three cross-state moves, three children, etc.). Those things can be really difficult, especially for someone like me who doesn’t really enjoy major life changes (even when those changes bring joy). And it’s true — when I look forward, I see more stability; at least from my meager viewpoint. We’re 90% sure that our family’s quiver is full, and we have the feeling we’ll be in Indiana for a good while.  When I wish away the old, it’s all that tiresome change that I consider.

After my day of bargain-hunting (no, I didn’t come across the food dehydrator, but I did find some other great and needed items for my kitchen), I came home to quickly prepare dinner. I stirred the Hoppin’ John in my cast-iron dutch oven, and then did what I always did to clean off my stirring spoon: whacked it a few times on the rim of the pan. I was using one of my favorite wooden spoons — a short, thick maple one that had been a wedding gift from Tim’s Aunt Barb, way back in 2001. As the spoon hit the side of the pan with that familiar ring, it split in two, weak from the 9 years of abuse from my hand. I exclaimed, first in surprise, and then in sadness, that a favorite utensil had met its demise. I set it aside, unwilling to toss it just yet, and the next time I needed to stir, reached in my utensil crock for the brand-new bamboo slotted spoon that was a Christmas gift from Tim’s mom. Good thing you got that spoon for Christmas, Tim said.

Maybe our tradition of eating this meal on New Year’s Day can evolve into a time of consideration. What would have to happen for us to consider this new year lucky? As I look ahead to coming months, I see a lot of unknowns; we have no idea where we’ll be living come June 1st, we don’t know if we’ll be able to buy or need to continue renting, and we have a child with health problems that remain mysterious and have potential long-term consequences. But as I look back, I see provision for our family every step of the way, at every turn in the last decade. If someone asks me in the year 2020 if I consider myself a lucky person, I hope I say yes. But rather than answering so because I have won a sweepstakes or have at some point actually become a legal driver in this state, I hope my answer is yes because I’ve learned that sometimes spoons break — even spoons that have sentimental value; and I’m lucky because in the history of my life, I can look back and see that every time I’ve really needed a spoon, I’ve never been without.