Box Gone Bad: I taste & create!

Taste & Create is a very cool monthly blog event that assigns participating food blogs together in pairs. Each blogger of the pair reads through the other’s site and chooses a recipe to create, taste, and blog about!

This round was my first time participating, and I couldn’t wait to see who I would be paired with, and what dishes we would choose from each other’s offerings. I was paired with the lovely Cowgirl Min, over at the blog The Bad Girl’s Kitchen. Ooh, how saucy! Let’s see what bad girls are cookin’ up these days…

The first thing I noticed and enjoyed about BGK is that it is something of a collective site. Min is not the only bad girl sharing her recipes, although she is the main contributer, and the “life story” you get to follow throughout the posts (which is half the fun of a food blog) is mostly hers. But other friends contribute both recipes and personality, which makes the site extra fun to read.

Breakfast casserole, In My Box-style

Breakfast casserole, In My Box-style

And then, well, it turns out that what bad girls are cooking these days… is mostly meat and wheat. One I don’t eat, and the other I can’t eat. I think I was as bemused as Min was reading my site. I’m going, “What on earth can I make here that doesn’t involve meat or wheat?” and she was asking, “Where the heck do I find Laura Chenel aged goat cheese when the nearest, minuscule grocery store is 35 miles away? And they’ve never heard of goat cheese?” You can read more about Min’s adventure with my blog over at her post about making my decadent breakfast tacos.

In keeping with the theme of my blog, I wanted, if possible, to make a recipe that would use something from my CSA box. I found recipes at BGK for marinated mushrooms and for roasted green beans that sounded good and fit my dietary needs, but neither mushrooms nor green beans would be showing up from Eatwell any time soon. I decided to make something that truly represented the down-home, rich ‘n’ filling spirit of the Bad Girl’s Kitchen, something using the lovely farm-fresh eggs I get every week in my box. I decided to make Min’s yummy-sounding breakfast casserole.

I found gluten-free bread with the proper texture for this sort of dish at Mariposa Bakery in Oakland. I was going to just skip the sausage component, but when I stopped at Trader Joe’s for cheese, I lucked out and found some soy chorizo that contained no wheat gluten! (It’s very rare for fake meat not to be based on wheat gluten.) I already had at home a can of Amy’s Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup (which does contain a small amount of wheat flour), a half-full quart of Silk soy milk, and, of course, my eggs. The only thing I was missing was a can of condensed milk, which I picked up at the corner store by my house. I decided to make a half-recipe since Duck wouldn’t be able to share in this very un-vegan treat.

Look at my ingredients - they live in packages!

Look at my ingredients - so conveniently packaged!

I cooked the sausage, mixed everything together, and popped the casserole in the oven. Since I’d gotten pre-shredded cheese, there was barely any work involved at all, which was a huge relief because this has been a very tired week. It emerged looking browned and gooey and delicious, which it turned out to be. Except for one thing… Okay, so I am not an expert on the canned goods section of the market. Is there an unsweetened variety of condensed milk? Because I thought that condensed milk and sweetened condensed milk were the same thing, until I tasted the oddly sweet, mushroomy topping of my breakfast casserole. Somehow, despite having poured a highly concentrated sweetener over my casserole, I was still expecting a mouthful of savory, egg-bread-sausage goodness. But instead I taste sweet, sweet, sweet, and my mouth gets all confused and doesn’t know what’s going on. [EDIT: I’m a bit of an idiot. Shortly after I posted this post, a reader commented to point out that the original recipe calls for evaporated milk. I know evaporated milk is not sweet and condensed is, but somehow this entire time, and I even thought I went back and checked, I have remained convinced that the recipe called for condensed milk. Did I mention it was a very tired week?]

Nonetheless, the casserole is rich and filling and yummilicious, and I consider this a very successful visit to someone else’s world of food. I don’t know if I would make it again, because I found it as arduous to gather the ingredients (Oakland for GF bread soft enough for this kind of use, TJ’s for soy sausage, etc.) as Cowgirl Min found it to track down my fancy-pants Bay Area stuff. But overall my first round of T&C was a great deal of fun – I got to know someone else’s food blog intimately and I got to walk on the bad girl side of the kitchen. As Min’s blog says, “Try a new recipe… You know you want to.”


I didn’t want to celebrate the 4th of July. I’m having very ambivalent feelings in the patriotism department, and, since the car accident, I just haven’t felt much like celebrating. But the day took on a life of its own, unrelated to any sort of officially declared bank and postal holiday. Duck and I were joined by Farmer B and another friend and we had a sparkly wonderful day that flowed from Indian-buffet brunch at our beloved “all fresh! never frozen!” vegetarian Indian restaurant down the street to playing our favorite board game, Settlers, in the backyard of our favorite local coffeeshop.

Nectarine clafouti

Then home to our newly set-up art room where Duck worked on his graphic novel and the rest of us made buttons and collages while the pets ran about, and then our visiting friends and I made a fresh-from-the-box meal while Duck worked furiously to complete his project and we all had this gorgeous dinner by candelight and then Duck washed all the dishes and we had coffee and dessert and played two more games of Settlers. We ended our glorious day by sitting together on the couch in our pajamas while Duck gave us the first look at his newly finished piece.

This was truly a celebration. Ever since the accident, I’ve been flipping back and forth between “Oh man, this is really, really an awful thing to have happened” and “Thank all that is holy that everyone is okay.” But mostly I’ve been floating through space, able to connect with how heartbreaking and terrifying it would have been if something worse had happened, but predominantly squashed by the weight of all that did happen and all that is still to come. So it was a gift to have this day, this seamless day of friends and games and art and food, where one moment flowed perfectly into the next and, as cheesy as it sounds, I got to really remember in my body why life is so precious.

And of course it wouldn’t be a celebration if it didn’t involve food – lots of it and only the good stuff, please! Our menu was drawn directly from the bounty of my box: Warm arugula with tempeh bacon and garlic over soft, creamy polenta made with scrap stock (batch IV), and chard with toasted walnuts made following Duck’s mom’s recipe. Farmer B found a bottle of wine someone had brought to a party years ago, way up on a shelf in my pantry, and we had this surprisingly good wine, and ginger beer for the non-drinkers. And while we ate dinner, dessert was baking in the oven. We would be having plum and strawberry clafouti, my first clafouti of the summer, which is for me a celebration all by itself.

Plum and strawberry clafouti

Plum and strawberry clafouti

Clafouti (or clafoutis) is a French dessert that is sort of like a firm fruit custard. Although traditionally made with cherries, the term clafouti is now used to describe this dessert when made with any kind of fruit. I made my first clafouti (a cherry one) in high school to accompany a French class report on the regions of France. In summers past I have made one after another all summer long, using surplus plums from friends’ trees, nectarine bounty from the farmer’s market – whatever stone fruit or berry comes my way. This is my second most frequently requested recipe (someday I’ll tell you about my ginger chocolate torte…) and now that we are getting all kinds of cherries and berries and lovely stone fruits in our boxes, I wanted to pass the recipe along to you.

French Summer Fruit Clafouti (adapted from
This is one of the easiest dessert recipes I’ve ever encountered, and to make it even easier I’ve converted it to a “one-pot” style recipe. As long as you keep a bottle of Riesling or other sweet wine on hand you’ll be able to whip this up with whatever fruit you have. (Last summer I didn’t end up using all of the $5 bottle of Moscato I got from Trader Joe’s for making clafouti, but it still tasted perfectly good when I used it last night, a YEAR later, after sitting, re-corked, on top of my fridge!)

4-5 ripe nectarines (or the equivalent in weight of plums, peaches, berries, cherries or any combination thereof)
1 C. Riesling or other sweet, fruity wine
5 T. butter
4 eggs
1/2 C. sugar
1/8 t. salt
1/2 C. flour (to make a gluten-free version, use half a cup of whatever GF flour combo or mix you would usually use for pancakes)
1 C. milk/hemp milk/rice milk/soy milk
1 T. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Cut fruit into 1/4-inch wedges (or pit and halve cherries) and macerate in a bowl with the wine for 15 minutes. Leave peels on fruit – they add to a colorful presentation.

Melt butter in a medium-sized pot over low heat. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then whisk in eggs, sugar, salt. Whisk in flour until combined well. Whisk in, until smooth, milk, vanilla, and 1/4 C. wine from the fruit mix.

Transfer fruit to bottom of baking dish using a slotted spoon. Pour batter over fruit (fruit will float to top). (The rest of the wine the fruit soaked in can now be used for sangria or just sipped straightaway!)

Bake in upper third of the oven until puffed and set in the center, 55-60 minutes. Transfer clafouti to a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers make a decadent but still vaguely “healthy” breakfast – hey, it’s fruit and eggs, right?

Decadence for breakfast, and lunch, and…

Decadent Breakfast Tacos

My visit to the Kitchen Empress in Michigan revolved a lot around food, as all of our visits (and our individual lives) tend to do. As food enthusiasts who have lived in the East, West, Southwest, and Midwest of this country, and who have taken up long-term habitation in several of the other continents of the world, we swap food tales like foreign correspondents share their war stories.

One morning I was telling KE about this new fondness I’ve developed for tacos (they are a terrific, easy vegan and gluten-free meal, and those are in high demand around my house). She swapped back with stories of beloved breakfast tacos from when she lived in Austin. Breakfast tacos with potatoes in them. I could not stop imagining what that would be like – the soft, warm corn tortilla wrapped around the crisped potatoes and the fluffy scrambled egg.

My last morning in Michigan we finally made my taco dreams come true. Using leftover roasted potatoes, we put together some breakfast tacos that were everything I’d imagined and more. I couldn’t stop thinking about them when I got home.

The other night, I worked well past dinner and so on the way back home Duck and I ended up at midnight at one of San Francisco’s all-night restaurants. We ordered the only things you can order in an all-night restaurant that are both vegan and gluten-free: french fries and a small green salad. These weren’t just any fries, these were “desert fries” (at first I wondered if they were misspelled “dessert fries” and pictured them piled with cherry sauce and whipped cream) with spicy Cajun seasoning. You can only eat so many french fries for dinner, and everyone knows fries make terrible leftovers (not least because you don’t want to be reminded of your dietary excess). But the spectre of the breakfast taco compelled me. I packed our fries up to take home.

And boy was I glad I did. For what followed was more magnificent than I could ever have anticipated.

The one consistent bummer about making tacos has been that the corn tortillas get soggy and fall apart halfway through the eating. Taco trucks and other taco professionals get around this by doubling up the tortilla, but my store-bought tortillas aren’t yummy enough that I want to scarf down a plain double layer of them. So I concocted a plan to deal with all these hurdles, little imagining it would lead me to a breakfast taco so decadent that I had to leave most of it on the plate for lunch, and beyond.

Decadent Breakfast Tacos

Take a small stack of corn tortillas and warm them in a pan until soft. Take two tortillas and sandwich between them a thin layer of Laura Chenel aged goat cheese. In a pan, warm chopped desert fries and crumbled tempeh bacon in a little olive oil. Place these on the tortilla, and top them with a perfectly scrambled egg, sliced avocado, and some chipotle-lime salsa. Close your eyes and savor. It’s okay if it’s too rich to finish in one sitting – the tortilla won’t fall apart while it waits.


Sauteed radicchio with thyme fritatta

I posted my first ode to bitter greens back in November of last year. I haven’t had the chance to write any more, as that one glorious bunch of escarole in my box was followed by a winter and spring of wonderful but not at all bitter spinach, kale, chard, and turnip greens.

This week I returned from my travels to an empty fridge, so, for the first time in a very long time, Duck and I hit the farmer’s market. We checked out one we’ve never been to before, the Wednesday Kaiser farmer’s market. This was a tiny market – one stand with stone fruits, one with strawberries (they had just run out of organic, and strawberries are super high on my “No buy” list for conventionally grown fruit, too bad!), one with organic veggies, and then a juice stand, a Sukhi’s Indian food stand, and a bread stand (maybe? I never made it over to that one).

The small size suited me just fine, since, after nine months of CSA box delivery, choosing produce can actually be a little overwhelming. (My produce-selection muscles have atrophied!) Everything at the stands was beautiful and perfectly ripe. At the veggie stand we got our several bunches of kale, and Duck got to give another customer a run-down of the taste and tenderness of each of the three kale varieties on offer. We stocked up on cauliflower to make impressionist cauliflower, and picked out some potatoes to roast.

Then I spotted them. The little pile of burgundy spheres, their tightly curled red leaves shot with white. My mouth started to water.

“How much is the radicchio?,” I asked the woman behind the cashbox.

“A dollar-fifty a head,” she answered. I almost fainted.

I grabbed Duck’s arm and pulled him over to the pile. “Duck, they have radicchio for $1.50 a head,” I muttered. I had to keep myself from whispering, half-afraid the stand would be mobbed if I spoke too loud.

Duck looked blank. “Is that good?”

Before I could answer, the woman behind the counter explained, “It typically costs around $3 a pound.” She put one on a scale. “This would be $2!”

I could only stare at her. I happen to know that radicchio is currently selling at Andronico’s for $7.99/lb. Now that’s Andronico’s, mind you, where you walk in to just get change for the meter and somehow still walk out twenty dollars lighter, but still… Except for when I was in Italy, radicchio has been for my whole life a very carefully doled out treat, bought on only the most special of occasions.

As much as I wanted to buy the whole pile and make a bed of the leaves to roll around on, Uncle Scrooge-style, I restrained myself to two heads. Two lovely, bitter, luxurious, DOLLAR FIFTY heads.

And for all you San Franciscans reading this, if you have to make a run on Kaiser next week, at least save me a head!

Seared Radicchio with Balsamic Vinegar
Shown above with a pan-cooked fritatta of eggs, thyme, teleme, and brown rice

2 heads radicchio
Olive oil
Salt, fresh ground pepper, balsamic vinegar

Cut each head of radicchio in half lengthwise, keeping the core intact to hold the leaves together. Cut each half into four wedges. Brush both sides of each wedge generously with olive oil.

Heat a cast iron pan (or another pan that can handle high heat) to medium-high, letting it get good and hot. Add the radicchio wedges in a single layer and cook until a bit brown and wilted. Turn wedges over and continue to cook. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Some people like their radicchio still somewhat crisp, some like it absolutely limp. Taste a leaf every now and then until you reach your desired texture, being careful not to burn them! (If they start to get too dark before they are tender enough, turn the heat down some and add a bit more oil.)

Once the wedges have reached your preferred tenderness, turn off heat and sprinkle a few spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar over the wedges.

Serve for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for dessert! Radicchio is the appropriate food for any and every occasion!

Strawberry Day!

I am, ever and always, a research queen. I no longer do it for a living (or a degree), but if there’s a decision that needs to be made, whether it be major and life-altering or embarassingly minor and petty, you can bet I’ll come to the table armed with all the facts, opinions, and perspectives I can dig up. So understandably a lot of considerations went into such a significant decision as my choice of CSA.

A field of many lettuces at Eatwell Farm
Lovely lettuces at Eatwell Farm

Because I’m so tired, so often, I wanted food brought to me, rather than having to go to the farmer’s market each week. But I also wanted local food, and to be directly supporting specific, tangible growers, so that eliminated many of the grocery delivery services and produce-box services that box up an amalgamation of produce from all over the country and world. And I also, in my secret heart of hearts, wanted a farm that I could visit, where I could touch the soil my food was grown in and meet the people who nurtured it towards my plate.

Close-up of wheat growing
Nothing says “farm” quite like 40 acres of wheat

During the month I was researching CSA options, there was a medfly quarantine in the town of Dixon, where Eatwell Farm is located. It was late summer, and thousands of ripe tomatoes, waiting on the vine to go into CSA boxes and to farmer’s markets, were suddenly quarantined, forbidden to leave the farm unprocessed. So Eatwell threw a tomato-canning party. I watched with delight through the farm’s blog as hundreds of Eatwell members headed out to the farm for an afternoon of cooking up sauce and drinking bloody marys. Nigel, the farm’s owner, wrote in the blog, “When I got a few moments to myself I looked upon everyone working hard and having a great time and thought ‘this is exactly the farm and community that I have always wanted’. So it took a few Med Fly in Dixon to realize that what we all have here is something very precious.” When I read this, I knew I had found my farm, my box.

Farmer B picking strawberries in the field at Eatwell
Farmer B picking strawberries in the field at Eatwell

I missed the tomato-sauce party, and winter isn’t the best time for farm days, so my first opportunity to take part in this new community I’d bought into with my weekly box didn’t come until May. Earlier this month I headed out to Dixon for the first time, to take part in one of Eatwell’s “Strawberry Days.” We were invited to come and pick strawberries in the fields, welcome to eat as many as we could stuff in right then and there, and then pay just $1/pound for whatever we wanted to take home. I brought my good friend Farmer B with me (so called because, thanks to her interest in and dedication to farming, we are all counting on her to guide us through feeding ourselves post peak-oil apocalypse when there is total collapse of the massive network of trucks and boats and planes that currently shlep our industrially fertilized food around the world) to check out “my” farm.

Me picking strawberries
Me picking strawberries in the field

While we were there we picked many strawberries (and took our loot home to freeze for future smoothies – yum!) and also had the opportunity to tour the farm with Nigel, the farm’s owner. He showed us the 40 acre wheat field they are leasing to grow organic wheat for chicken feed, and took us through the rest of the farm, which is about 60 acres. We learned about the particulars of running a farm that must yield a constant variety of produce, to keep our boxes interesting each week. I hadn’t thought about it before, but Eatwell can’t just decide, “We’ll sell lettuce in spring and tomatoes in summer and squash in the fall” or whatever, because they aren’t just taking a bunch of stuff to market and selling it to people who are stopping by many stalls. They need to make sure our boxes have both novelty and variety each and every week.

Nigel giving the tour
Nigel leading the tour in front of the wheat field

On our tour we got to pick sugar snap peas off the vine, which was decadent for me, as sugar snap peas, even more than strawberries, are what I associate with “luxury” produce. We learned about the stands of trees that were the first thing Nigel planted when he got the land, to provide windbreaks for the crazy winds that can get up to 25+ miles an hour and just suck the moisture from plants and soil. We also learned that Eatwell gets their compost from the company that processes San Francisco’s food and yard scraps (we have a city-wide composting program here) which is pretty awesome, on a symbolic level. As Nigel pointed out, every time they pick a truckload of food from the farm, they are hauling nutrients away from the land, and now, because of the composting program, those exact same nutrients (barring, of course, the ones we have absorbed into our own bodies) find their way back.

Eating sugar snap peas off the vine
Eating sugar snap peas off the vine. Decadent!

And then, of course, we met the chickens. They were definitely the celebrities of the hour, with tons of questions asked and long lingering at their enclosure, whereas for the rest of the farm we’d been content to just let Nigel lead us from field to field. I learned that the beautiful green and blue eggs, which I love, come from araucana hens who are being “phased out” (stockpot, here they come) because they take three months off in the winter, producing no eggs but still chowing down on their pricey organic feed. True free-ranging chickens, although they eat plants and insects as they forage about, still need more supplemental feed than factory-farmed chickens. This is because outdoor hens use a lot of energy moving around all day and keeping themselves warm, unlike chickens who are packed in together tightly, keeping each other warm and unable to move.

The chickens with their chicken house

The chickens with their chicken house, one of five houses. The enclosure is an electric fence, turned on at night to keep out the coyotes. The chickens seem to have no problem flying over it when they like the looks of the neighboring pasture!

Altogether, it was amazing to be at the farm. It’s sad how disconnected I have been my whole life, and still mostly am, from my food and its origins, but this was a small and meaningful step in bridging that gap. I didn’t walk away with entirely fuzzy feelings, however. At the end of the day i found myself sitting at a picnic table with Nigel. Most everyone had gone home, and Farmer B was out in the field gathering one last bucket of berries. Nigel, who has a kind of reserve and brusqueness, didn’t seem like the kind of person to whom I could give a real soul-baring expressing of gratitude, so I started with, “You guys are a big part of my life. I write a blog based on my box and what I do with the food you grow.” His response was, “Oh yeah. A lot of [Eatwell customers] have blogs.”

Portrait of farmer with wind break and cell
Portrait of farmer with windbreak, sprinklers, and cell phone

Oh, okay. So much for my conversational opener. That was too bad, but a good reminder that this isn’t all a fantasy farm fairytale. What’s a food blog, in comparison to twelve hour days of actually growing the food? I mean, I want the people who grow my food to see what I create with it and how much it touches my life, but maybe that’s not why they grow it or what gives the work meaning for them. I can sense a kind of forced resolution in my desire for things to come “full circle,” an uneven equation in which I want my end of things – the consumer end – to have the same weight as the producer end. I’m not really sure what I’m trying to express here, just the sense that this may be one of those situations where the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. I still feel essentially naive about the origins of food, and the little bit of knowledge and understanding that I’m acquiring is like lifting the lid off a deep well and peering inside, totally unable to fathom the bottom.

There are something like five roosters for 1600 chickens. Those are some busy birds! (I mean busy protecting the flock, get your mind out of the gutter!)

For what it’s worth, I’ll say it here, and hopefully find a way to say it more personally some day. Anna, Agustin, Arturo, Daisy, Fernando, Jesus, Jose, Molly, Nigel, Nikko, Ricardo, Roberto, Sadie (RIP), Yvette, and anyone else whose name I don’t know, Thank You. Every time I open a new, thrilling box, I thank you. Every time my body gets that tingly “healthy!” feeling from eating a whole bunch of kale in one sitting, I thank you. Every time I smile with delight to see another stranger has found my blog by googling “spinach for breakfast,” I thank you. When I read Omnivore’s Dilemma or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and, instead of feeling panicked and overwhelmed, I feel secure and even slightly smug, knowing the majority of my food comes from my local, sustainable foodshed, I thank you. Even when I’m finding out I don’t like turnips, or having a strange allergic reaction to radish greens, I thank you, because this is what it means to eat what’s local and in season and not live in a bubble of banana-scented safety and routine. For all your work, for the tremendous investments of time and energy and money you make and the risk you assume so that I can have safe, healthy, delicious food delivered to me week after week, I thank you, and I cannot thank you enough.

Farm Princess with wheat

Spinach for breakfast, the sequel

I’m totally enjoying the feature on wordpress that lets me see what google search phrases have led people here, to my box. I get a lot of visitors on “aphid” related searches, and surprisingly few on “community supported agriculture” related ones. (Although I get a lot of CSA-specific visitors clicking over from the Eatwell list of member blogs and from the post on Chowhound about choosing a CSA.)

Frittata with spinach and Humboldt Fog cheese with salad

Super Easy Pan-Cooked Spinach Fritatta with Humboldt Fog cheese, green garlic, spring onion, and thyme (medium-pan sized, cut in half) with a salad of lettuce, red cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, and sugar snap peas

One surprising search phrase that shows up almost every day, sometimes in multiple versions, is some variation of “spinach for breakfast.” Which is, of course, the title of a post I made back in February extolling the pleasures of spinach as a breakfast food. My first thought of course is, “Wow, there sure are a lot of people who want to know about eating spinach for breakfast. Huh.” My next thought every time I see that someone’s search for breakfast-spinach information led them here is a bit of guilt. Because my first Spinach for Breakfast post is more about my personal, heartwarming journey to spinach acceptance than it is a helpful guide on how to use spinach in one’s morning meal. Which I assume is what all these googlers are googling for.

So I decided to revisit the topic of spinach for breakfast. It gives me an excuse to share a recipe I’ve been wanting to share. The other morning I was cooking breakfast (it involved spinach, of course) and thinking about how much this one recipe, which isn’t even a recipe but more of a technique, completely changed my breakfast life. I used to think I was “not a breakfast person” and “not an egg cooker” because fried eggs bored me, scrambled eggs eluded me, and frittatas were special occasion food involving all kinds of fancy cooking and flipping using plates or pans with heat-proof handles so you could finish them in the oven.

Frittata with thyme and Carmody cheese, tempeh bacon, pomelo fruit salad

Super Easy Pan-Cooked Frittata with Carmody cheese and thyme (small-pan sized, whole), tempeh bacon, and fruit salad with pomelo, kiwi, apple, and mint

This technique is usually how spinach ends up in my breakfast, but it’s also a great, simple way to incorporate most any kind of leftover into a hot, pleasing morning meal. It’s so obvious that I feel a little silly even writing it down, but I so distinctly remember the change in breakfast, from before I practiced this to after, that it seems worth taking the time to share it.

Recipe below… Continue reading

Experimental Quiche: Pea Shoots, Stir-fry Mix, Spinach

I had all this stuff for stir-frying: pea shoots and the aptly named stir-fry mix. But even though I’ll order pea shoots every time I see them on the menu, I haven’t been too successful with them at home in the past and I basically just didn’t want stir-fry. No Asian flavors, no lovely bright vegetables that have to be individually chewed. No, I wanted a soft, dense pile of comfort food.

So I thought I would try another variation on the Spinach, Chard, and Onion Torta that was one of my first box meals, using eggs, leeks, green garlic, pea shoots, the chard-heavy stir-fry mix, and a bag of spinach for the filling. I had a cup of cooked black rice and a cup of cooked quinoa in the fridge, both a day or so from going bad. And with no plans to eat stir-fry any time Rice and Quinoa Crust for Quichesoon, the likelihood of those grains being eaten was slim to none. That’s when I came across a terrific-sounding recipe for quiche crust made from cooked rice and an egg – a perfect solution to my leftover rice problem that would also allow me to avoid the gluten-heavy breadcrumb crust of the original torta. The crust came out of the oven looking so beautiful – all purple and golden from the grains – that I know this will become a staple solution for the piles of grains that I make ahead for convenience but sadly sometimes end up throwing away. It tasted merely neutral, providing good texture but not contributing anything to the flavor of the quiche, but I feel confident that some doctoring ahead of time with herbs and garlic and salt and pepper will turn it into something magnificent.

Leeks for breakfast

I love cooking experiences that take care of several needs simultaneously. In this case, I found myself, once again, with a backlog of leeks. Why do I end up with so many leeks? I think because I am not a good preparer and consumer of wintertime soups. These would enfold my leeks and savor the unique notes they bring to the pot, but whenever I make soup I don’t end up eating most of it, and it rots, and I’m sad. And then on the other hand, leeks aren’t the kind of veggies I like to just steam up and eat alongside some rice and tempeh, so they had started to make a leek mountain in the back of my fridge.

Sephardic Leek and Cheese Casserole

I also had an interesting food challenge to meet. I’m going to be away from home for at least a week, under circumstances where taking care of my own (convoluted and everchanging) food needs might not be able to get my full attention. The hardest meal for me to figure out at other people’s houses is breakfast, because I generally tend to eat leftovers, but I can’t count on finding the right sort of leftovers for breakfast every day at someone else’s house. So what could I make that would be like breakfast, and like leftovers, and maybe also involved a lot of leeks?

I pulled down a huge stack of cookbooks from the shelf, branching out this time past the usual suspects. I combed their indices for mention of leeks. Finally, in a beautiful cookbook called Olive Trees and Honey, one that I love to read but rarely cook from, I found the perfect dish. In addition to my leek backlog, I was also faced with a surplus of eggs, and the minute I saw the recipe I knew the utterly comfort-foodish Sephardic Leek and Cheese Casserole was going to clean out my fridge and set me up with breakfast quite perfectly. I really wanted all those leeks to go to a good home, and I think at last I’ve found one.

Recipe can be found beyond Continue reading

Spinach for breakfast

Spinach with Garlic, Potato and Egg Dish

I stopped buying spinach some time in college. I hated washing it, or rather, I hated eating gritty spinach, which was usually how my roommates and I ate it, since we all hated the effort it took to wash it well. Then they started selling prewashed baby spinach in those cellophane bags, so I started buying spinach again. Then I got waste-conscious, and stopped buying spinach so I wasn’t using up all that plastic. Now I’m back to spinach. And if I thought it was gritty before…

Dirty Spinach

But the spinach keeps coming, every week it comes, which means this time I don’t have a choice. So I fill a tub with water, I use kitchen shears to snip the leaves off their crowns, and I plunge them in. I swish them, then I rinse them, then I rinse them again. It’s a lot of work. But I’m finding I don’t mind. The spinach is there, so I clean it. It cooks up so tender and sometimes even sweet.

I usually eat the whole batch in one sitting, at breakfast time. I don’t know why spinach has become solely a breakfast food, although I do generally wake up craving eggs and greens. So once a week I wash and wash my spinach, saute it with some garlic and olive oil, and fold it into an omelette, or tuck it under some poached eggs, or eat it alongside something like the (unfortunately not very successful) potato-and-egg bake pictured above. And, when I sit down at last to eat my breakfast spinach, I feel like I can taste the satisfying flavor that comes from grit-free spinach, accomplished sans cellophane bag.

(For some more concrete ideas on how to use spinach for breakfast, please read Spinach for Breakfast, the Sequel!)

A bowl of gratitude

I Am DIY Rice Bowl

A few times a year I’ll become obsessed with a particular dish from a particular restaurant. My appetite tends to be a tumultuous and fickle thing, and some days I’ll parade every food I can think of before my mental stomach and only to have each one met by nausea. It is then that my thoughts turn to the magic dish, whatever concoction it is that has become, not just an obsession, but somehow the only thing my body finds acceptable. Right now that panacea-on-a-plate is the absurdly named I Am Accepting Sushi Rice Bowl from a restaurant called Cafe Gratitude.

Cafe Gratitude is a kind of pricey, mostly raw, entirely vegan restaurant with three locations around the Bay Area. The general response around town to CG’s very particular aesthetic seems to be a mixture of disdain, confusion, and either worshipful or grudging appreciation of the food. Be that as it may, that singular rice bowl has become, for me, an addiction.

I crave this dish to the point that I really can’t be running off to spout affirmations and spend $10 every time I want a warm spoonful of nutty red rice with kale and avocado that feels in my mouth like the superpowered pinnacle of all that is healthy and nourishing. I even tried sneaking a look at the recipe given in the I Am Grateful cookbook, for sale at all CG retail outlets, but the recipe was quite clearly not the one used by the restaurant. Today I happened to come across a gorgeous post on 101 Cookbooks with a recipe for Poached Eggs Over Rice, and since this was almost what I wanted, but still not quite the thing, I was inspired to call the cafe and just ask them what’s in that bowl of Acceptance.

This turned out to lead to one of those magical, karmic CSA-box experiences. Rory over at CG very nicely looked up for me the components in the dressing, which was the heretofore missing piece. And so I realized I was going to have to make my reproduction without scallions, cucumber, avocado, and orange juice – and that’s a lot of flavor elements to lose. The avocado I was already planning to substitute with poached egg, but the orange juice was especially sad, since my palate immediately recognized OJ as vital to the brightness of the dish.

But when I headed off to see if I had any greens in my as-yet unpacked box, I found that not only did I have a lovely bunch of collards, but that this week’s box also brought two unexpected ingredients: a bunch of fat scallions and three navel oranges!

In short, this dish turned out amazing, easily equal to if not tastier than the original, and well able to satisfy those cravings with very little effort. And so from now on I think you’ll find that, if I’m going to be declaring aloud my general state of acceptance, I’m going to be doing it in my pajamas.

The recipe for the I Am DIY Rice Bowl (modified from the 101 Cookbooks recipe) can be found below the more… tag. Continue reading