Earth

Roasted Carrots with Lemon Pistachio Butter, Pumpernickel, and Dill

roasted carrots
I’m getting used to the color brown. Dark brown. There’s no green in these parts yet, but mud has never felt more encouraging considering that all has been so white for so long. Well, more like grey in my urban environment, but regardless the surrounding color palate has been pale and dead. Mud is downright vibrant in comparison. Mud can be stepped on without trepidation: I can run on, jump on, and fall on mud without injury. Mud has reminded me that I have legs.

There’s a small patch of grey, maybe 12 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, that has lingered, gracing the tiny front yard of a neighbor’s house for the past couple of weeks. A few weeks before that, that ice patch was more like a frozen lake that overtook the yard—you’d never know that there was once life underneath. A good 3 or 4 inches thick at that time, the lake spilled onto the sidewalk and hastened my quick pace every morning this winter. When that patch is gone, I thought, it will be spring. Real spring.

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Will Trade Cookies for Spring

Persian Chickpea Cookies (Nan-e Nokhodchi)

nokhodchi
Today, at 12:57 pm, the sun will do something too earth science-y for me to explain eloquently, and it will be spring.

This is my fourth post that mentions the Persian new year, Nowruz, which coincides with the first day of spring. A fourth post is probably excessive considering that only a few people (if any) who read this blog, besides my father (Hi, dad!), probably celebrate the holiday.

But this year, I need this holiday. I need the feeling and the brightness and the newness that it represents, at least, as my soul, body, and mind—mostly my mind—struggle to feel signs of life and to see green instead of grey.

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Dreamless

Crispy Grain, Seed, and Oat Granola

roasted pears
Like most who write a blog, I like to read. I love stories, and flipping pages, and bookmarking, and returning. But I’ll admit to always having been more partial to spoken word than to written word. The stories told by others, out loud, have an inflection, an emotion, a lack of censorship that only a select few writers can achieve (I certainly can’t, though I’m not a “writer”). I find the tangents, and the meandering, and the ineloquence endearing—more authentic than carefully planned sentences, punctuation marks, and astute usage of language and grammar.

I like being enveloped in others’ truth. It is likely for that reason that I am (or was) a vivid dreamer. I revel in those tales told by my unconscious—tales reflective of my life, and my secret desires, and my emotions that my waking self doesn’t have the capacity to know I hold. As The Stepkids sing in “Memoirs of Grey,” “Dreams make the waking life bearable.”

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Sweet, Salty, Spicy

Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies with Aleppo Pepper

spicy peanut2
I don’t love to post recipes that are Valentine’s Day–themed. So I didn’t. Intentionally, anyway. But then I made these chewy, intensely flavorful cookies and thought, “Oh. God. Yes.”

Instead of lacing this post with innuendo, I’m just going to put it out there: These are sex cookies. A little sweet, a little salty, a little heat, and some chocolate—that’s all you need out of Valentine’s Day, right?

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Ice On Ice

Individual Sesame-Chocolate Ice Cream Cakes

ice cream sandwich2

(Tahini Ice Cream, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Ganache, Honey Sesame Clusters)

When I was about 8 months old, my mom innocently gave me a lick off her spoon of vanilla soft-serve. That was my first taste of ice cream. My then-blue eyes widened, my dimples poked through very chubby cheeks, and my little tongue, reportedly, flapped furiously for more—that was my way of communicating that “Hey, I like that. Can I have some more, Mommy?” With that lick of swirled, most likely artificially flavored confection, my mom had created the monster that I am today: a fine ice cream seeker, maker, junkie.

I’m not sure why so many pastry people seem to love—and I mean love ice cream. While I get lots of pleasure out of making my own ice cream, the process isn’t as beautifully tangible as working a dough is. Pastry works my mind, pastry is my crutch when I’m feeling off but, more often than not, what I crave is ice cream. I’d take a good scoop over cake, and if only allowed to eat one sweet for the rest of my life, I might even choose ice cream over my beloved pie. I crush on ice cream so hard, that I’ll eat it in abundance deep into a second “polar vortex.” In fact, while I may go out for ice cream more often in the summer, I make more of it in the winter when berries and stone fruit, which sometimes take on an unpleasant texture in frozen desserts, are off my radar. Ice on ice. There’s just as much warmness to ice cream as there is coldness: Sometimes you patiently infuse warm milk and cream with fragrant flavors and a burst of steam kisses your face when you open the pot’s lid. You dip a spoon into it and taste to see if it’s on point. You reheat and pour this steamy mixture, carefully and slowly, into egg yolks while whisking like mad. Then you pour all of this back into the pot, and you stand, whisking still, over this gradually thickening, hot pot of custard. Dribbles of custard inevitably trail down the side of the pot or the bowl to which you’re transferring this liquid gold and you wipe them up with your finger and lick off the warm mixture—that tiny drop contains so much flavor. No, ice cream isn’t just cold.

I love how chocolate swirls find their way to the corners of your mouth, how the lips become coated by an opalescent milky film, how a dot of cream adorns the tip of your nose if you’re licking off a double-scoop cone. I love how something can at once be childlike and sophisticated, no matter what herbs or alcohols your ice cream is infused with.

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Green

Roasted Kale, Four Ways

crispy chicken skin
It should be around this time that I begin to crave green. The holidays are over. We’ve experienced more than one substantial snow event. I haven’t eaten a green bean in three months, an asparagus spear in seven. Unfortunately, though, this wanting began some time earlier. I’ve been itching for a fix of green that’s not broccoli, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts—because whose stomach can really handle mass quantities of those, as delicious as they may be? Certainly not my little fire pit. I want green that’s not greens—I’m not looking for leaves. I want fresh and delicate produce when I feel neither fresh nor delicate. I want quick-cooking when I’m slow. I want summer in winter. And, as in most aspects of my life, I want something I can’t have.

But I’m getting along with my beloved roots. Rugged and long-lasting, they’re versatile and their colors match those of the hidden sun, the long-lost rainbows. They’re earthy-tasting reminders of the ground from which they came that is typically covered this time of year by all that is winter. As for that green I crave, I’m getting most of it from, well, a green: kale. But kale is different to me than chard or spinach. Kale feels more substantial, its flavor hinting of broccoli. It’s the curly and hardy never-let-you down, always-make-you-feel-good vegetable that people couldn’t stand several years ago but suddenly can’t seem to eat enough of.

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Keeping On

Sable Breton Galette with Rosemary Poached Pears and Honey Caramel Diplomat Cream

Rosemary Caramel

I hold Christmas tightly. Too tightly perhaps. It’s not a holiday. It’s not religious. It’s not a time for vacation. I hold whatever it is tightly because after the lights come down, it’s grey until April. There’s nothing to look forward to. There’s no celebration to plan. There’s nothing for the mind to stir over. I get anxious when I’m lacking something to stir over.

I’m not sure I can spend too many more years in this city, though there’s a chance I’ll never leave. I started writing this in mid-December in my laundromat, where I learned, as snow fell steadily and the thermometer read 18 degrees, that there’s no heat (or perhaps it wasn’t working for just that day). I take breaks to quickly hide my hands between my thighs until they’re warmed by my body’s heat and can hold onto that electricity for a moment so that they’re strong enough to tap keys. I blast music through headphones to keep my toes tapping and my head nodding; otherwise, my toes would pop off, and my head would explode. It would be messy.

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Fries at the Garden

Chickpea Fries with Lemony Browned Butter Mayonnaise and Fried Sage

fried sage

We were welcomed by the coolest of cats. Smooth as a sax player, he had long, neat dreads that fell halfway down his back, and he wore a relaxed vibrant purple silk shirt, unbuttoned lower than another guy could get away with. We said that we had a 6 o’clock reservation, and we followed him slowly—he had a bum leg—to a two-seater. When we sat down, a woodsy scent drew our noses to the small potted thyme plant at the center of the table. Fun.

This was my and my mother’s first impression of a local restaurant, Garden at the Cellar when we met there maybe about 5 years ago. The restaurant is above and connected to another bar and it lives in an unnamed area on Massachusetts Avenue between Central and Harvard Squares in Cambridge, MA. We had planned to eat there because we knew that we could get a good but simple bite after a late lunch and before a trip to my apparently oft-mentioned favorite ice cream shop, Toscanini’s. And we did just that. The restaurant, a bit like a gastropub, was pretty well known for nibblies of the fried variety—tater tots, rosemary truffle fries, doughnuts…with fois gras. So we started with chicken and thyme croquettes, which were OK. My mom got hanger steak-frites (the fries were good), and I got a crock of tomato soup that came with a grilled cheese. The meal wasn’t particularly interesting, but it was certainly comforting and well executed. And that’s what we wanted. In lieu of dessert, a miniature square of Taza chocolate was served. We had a wonderful time catching up, and I left thinking that I wouldn’t make an effort to come back but that I could see myself frequenting it if I lived in intra-square Cambridge—it was a perfect neighborhood spot.

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Many Words on Pumpkin Pie

(Spiceless) Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pepitas

pie and whipped cream

My pie: pumpkin. My topping: sweetened whipped cream. My weapon: fork.

Lacking much of a sweet tooth, I don’t really know where my love of baking came from. Right now, my work and this blog reflect an appreciation for science and mathematics, for deep thought, for art, and for movement. But that couldn’t have been the case as I crushed bananas to a pulp for bread while my mom’s hands gripped mine, guiding strokes of the potato masher because I wasn’t yet tall enough or strong enough to operate it myself. That couldn’t have been the case as I decorated gingerbread men and women with globs of sugary royal icing in bold primary colors, spreading them with a butter knife that felt awkward in my hand.

It is most likely that pastry first gripped me at the Thanksgiving table. When November arrives I start getting that feeling in the back of my throat—that saliva-inducing tingly sensation when I think about salty potato-chip-crisp turkey skin and deep, savory gravy; unctuous bacon fat; and earthy roasted potatoes. Of course, I make dessert, exercising my hands and thanking all that’s living for their ability to shape dough that encases fillings that light up faces. But it’s not that apple pie that I crave, even though I love it, or that spice cake, with its creamy frosting that pulls me. I typically crave all things savory.

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Backyard

Apple Hand Pies with Rye Crust and Maple Crème Fraîche

hand pies
October grasped me close, its winds embracing me with their autumnal might. I walked around, taking the long ways and breathing in October’s clean air. Strong branches held my weight and picked me up and guided me from place to place. Shortcuts can wait until it’s too cold to think. October’s fire—from the leaves, from the sun, from good people—warmed me on its chilliest days. October went out with celebration for the team of a home that was a bit battered this year. October was a strong month.

And October was a good month. A good month for my soul. The best month I’ve had in many.

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