Monday, December 31, 2012

Eggs in Passata || Travel Cooking

Robbie thinks I need to get more recipes up here, like 'the old days'; and I'd like to oblige, but things just haven't been going to plan lately. We've been traveling since October, in and out of rented houses and friends' houses and hotel rooms, and though I still like to cook for sanity and value on the road, my desire to try out new things seems to get shuffled out of my own kitchen. I've been leaving experimentation to local bars and restaurants, collecting ideas as keepsakes - apples in BBQ sandwiches (seaside Cayucos, CA), or corn meal and veggie burritos (old town Tucson, AZ), or pear vodka and ginger beer cocktails (upscale Scottsdale, AZ). Oh yes. 

And at home, whichever home that is at the moment, I've been concentrating on what I know I can do with simple things like eggs and butter and plain flour, beans and rice and passata and sour cream. In fact, almost all my culinary experiments of late have been big. fat. failures. 

Salad tacos? Success. 
Pita pizzas? Success. 
Peanut butter popcorn cookies? Fail. 
and so on. 

But this, this recipe's both new and simple - using ingredients I buy every time we rent a house somewhere: eggs, passata (tomato puree), sour cream, toast and butter, and in this case parsley. A great in-cabin breakfast before heading into town for a hot coffee, something that might work just as well on an early campfire or BBQ, next to sizzling slabs of bacon. If you're that way inclined. 

And now, thanks to that, I'm laying in bed with my laptop in lap envisioning the camping trips we'll take next year ... forming vague, dreamy resolutions that we'll get out of this house or that house more, wake to birds and stretch out the kinks and make food in hot sand or hot coals or our little Weber ... 

Bring it.
Happy 2013, 
Amanda xx 

Eggs in Passata
serves 3-4
adapted from Saveur

I used parsley here, but that's what I happened to have in the fridge - you could try any number of different herbs like cilantro, basil or fennel - but the best thing is that you can use up the stalks you'd typically discard and save the leaves for garnish or salads or other meals. Feel free to substitute thick, plain yogurt for the sour cream if you prefer, or if that's what you have on-hand. Add chilies, cheese, or nothing at all. 

The time
20-30 min

The ingredients
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped finely
3/4 cup finely chopped parsley stalks (or herb of choice)
3 cups passata, or tomato puree (~1 jar passata or 2 14oz cans puree)
1/2 tsp sea salt
6 organic eggs

sour cream + parsley leaves + buttered sourdough toast, to serve

*Try to use organic when you can

The process
1.  In a large skillet over med heat, saute the onion in the olive oil until soft. Add the passata, herbs, and salt, bring to a low boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.

2. Break the eggs into the tomato puree in the skillet - you may like to break them into dips to keep them somewhat separate, or let them all run across the top together. Either way, cover the skillet with a lid (or, in my case, a cookie sheet) and simmer away on low heat till the eggs are cooked. Peek at them now and then, and remove the skillet from heat when the eggs are how you like them - soft-poached and runny or cooked through. Though the original recipe says this part took just 5 minutes, it was closer to 10-15 min for me. Keep checking your eggs.

3. To serve, scoop 1-2 eggs and ample sauce from the skillet and set atop toasted, buttered slices of sourdough. Try not to break the yolks, if you've left the eggs runny. Dollop sour cream onto each plate and sprinkle with parsley leaves, to serve. Enjoy!

The cost
This organic family breakfast came in under $10 for me. Not including coffee.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to Desert

There can be such beauty in the prickly things, the tiny fine points, and walking out here in the desert makes me hungry for isolation. Camping, wood fires, primal living. Who needs TV if I've got my coffee and a family-sized sleeping bag? We could do it, us three, subsist on sweet, magenta-fleshed prickly pear and bird eggs and now and then, we'd roast a javelina on a spit. {Because even vegetarians have to compromise if they've gone wild, sorry dear javelinas, and we'll just pretend that chipotle and adobo are seasons in the peccarian afterlife}.

The open spaces, the hazy blueness and greenness, the danger lurking in crevices under rocks. I imagine the silence of deserting.

But ... no, life isn't about silence and isolation. So I walk with a 5 year old singing 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' behind me at the top of her lungs, and what was that awesome tamale thing I had at lunch, and a couple fighter planes from across the mountain rumble the rocks around me. But still. 

Still. I can find what I need in this place.

We're walking the desert near Tucson - Robbie and Nelle and I - exploring a place where saguaros are like trees they're so big and so many. The museum tells us it takes these giants 15 years to stretch a foot or two tall, and I feel so young out here, so young and soft. Nothing like her, of course, but our time here's making me feel stronger and more fragile all at once.

The same feelings I want to - somehow - give my baby to grow within her all glowing and warm. Be strong, darling, be sweet, and kind. Be you you you.

No, no, we're not going to run off into the desert after all, not this time. Instead we'll head back to our temporary home with the hummingbirds on the back deck and the quinoa pasta for dinner and a glass {or two} of wine. And in this moment, with her arms wrapped around my neck, I still carry with me all I need.
Amanda xx

Friday, December 14, 2012


one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen seventeen eighteen nineteen twenty twentyone twentytwo twentythree twentyfour twentyfive twentysix twentyseven and for twenty of those santa was coming and fuck, I know those parents will have presents tucked away in closets and will they ever be able to open those doors again. and this morning, the worst of my day was the smell of cat piss pervading the street outside and now that's nothing, absolutely nothing to this terrible acid sadness, and part of me wants to run away to a cave somewhere and let my hair grow all long and shaggy, and I'll meditate on dripping water and wandering insects and the hum of the world, or will I run to Nelle's preschool now, right now, who gives a shit what time of day it is, I need my daughter; and all these people are walking around and do they have no idea? have you not heard this, don't you know? or maybe they just can't picture imagine fathom the anguish the sinking of your own heart into a place so deep it hardly even feels like your own body anymore, so I run and run and find my baby who's all growing up and I hold her to me and mummy why are you crying and are you upset and mummy I'm hungry and yes, one day I'll wake up and I'll be gone or she'll be gone but I don't want that now, not now, not in any countable number of breaths, not when her mouth is so small and sweet and candy-cane scented and her eyes still see a world so precious and perfect; not her, not her, not ever. and come here, sweetie, I bury my head in her tangle of hair and forget the outside world for moments at a time and she looks up at me and asks: what was your favourite part of today?

with love and sadness,
Amanda xx

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Simple Salad Tacos | Rewriting History

Last year, I told you this was the 'next generation taco' - and I stick by that. But it didn't get the response I was hoping for. I mean, wasn't your world shaken by this announcement? No, the post sat all quiet and sad ... until yesterday. And when I pulled the recipe out of the archives, I knew. How on earth did I manage to complicate a SALAD TACO like this?

So I'm re-writing the recipe. And in fact, in the process of extracting this post, I managed to erase the original ... so technically, it's not even re-writing anymore. Kind of like memories, I guess - you write over the original so many times it becomes a new reality.

Welcome. To my dreamworld.

We're back in the desert, in our hired house, living a semi-transient life that does not lend itself well to multi-step taco construction. But does life EVER? What we need, friends, is this: simplicity.

And tacos.

Simple Salad Tacos
1. lettuce leaves - of a variety that lends itself to folding
2. a can of quality refried beans - you can afford to splurge on refried beans
3. full-fat sour cream
4. your favourite salsa
5. shredded cheese
6. homemade guacamole

Done. Kabam. 

The guacamole
3 avocados, mashed
lime juice and sea salt, to taste
minced fresh cilantro, if you have it

The assembly
Put as much stuff on the leaf as you can, fold, and eat.

Be feliz,
Amanda xx

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Happiness is ... What Happiness Is

I know I'm supposed to feel happy because this blade of grass turned toward the sun, all dewy and inspiring; or because my almost-starting-school-age daughter just now curled up on my lap in that space she used to occupy so small and fetal; or because some new treatment promises to save every life in the world; 

and yeah, these things make me happy.

But I think there's a conception out there that happiness has to be profound - meaningful. And I say, bullshit. Happiness is what makes me, you, him or her happy. That's it. 

Let me give you some examples:
1. On Saturday, we picked up our rental car from the airport in Phoenix: a 44-day rental with insurance and everything for some ridiculously low $/day that turned out to be a VW JETTA sedan with 365 MILES on the odometer, bucket seats, and an engine that purrs like a baby tiger. 
Helloooo, Tucson. Mojave desert. San Fran. LA.

Totally, materialistically, happy.

2. Last night, I sipped microbrew beer out of a Waterford crystal wine glass I found at Goodwill for $1.99. You can make this glass sing if you tap it, really sing. This is classy in a way I aspire to, but will only afford via scavenging. And yes, everything tastes better out of Waterford - even Phoenix tap water.

Profound? No. Happy? Yes.

3. Yesterday on our frantic freeway-drive-into-ASU {'work' at the moment}, my FAVOURITE EVER PAT BENATAR song came on the radio.

We Belong
My God, what a song.

I blasted it. I belted it. My husband and daughter squirmed and tolerated and probably lost hearing {which should make me unhappy, theoretically ... but I was into my moment. You understand.}

Again, is this life shattering? No. Did it give me an endorphin rush that lasted all day? Yes. {Thank you, Pat}

So I guess my point is, that we should embrace all the things - big and little - that make us happy*. And try not to feel too guilty about them; try not to feel like they're insignificant and somehow wrong. 

Happy is what happy is.
Amanda xx

*Note: unless the stuff that makes you happy is evil, and then you must seek help.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Behind the Scenes

I'd like you to imagine my morning like this:

Brightfaced with sunshine, I glide through the kitchen. I'm in my jammies, but who cares: I'm radiant. And my jammies are kinda casually sexy, anyway. The week behind has already slipped off me like water, or silk, or maybe ... melted chocolate. 

I pause, consider that.

Pancakes appear, raspberries appear, hot dark caffeine appears. My child skips past, already dressed  and ready for kidgames and stories and parkdates and all those things we'll do together after breakfast. We share a smile, barely perceptible through the white gleam around us.

Now I feel two warm arms slip around me from behind, and a kiss appears on my neck. Ah, he's awake, too, my love, and I ache just a bit - but gratefully - when he moves away to plate up the table and lasso our daughter. Mismatched chairs scrape out, we sit eagerly and heavily. 

We gather. 

Over and on and around our plates, the air is scented with fresh-ground coffee and hot, saucy raspberries and a hint of peppermint, from the light quick cleaning I did before. We're starving and happy and we talk about good and important things, the three of us. 
Good morning, darlings.

And I was going to tell you now how things really were - pancakes extracted from tupperwares and warmed in the microwave; the mixtape soundtrack of Saturday morning cartoons and leafblowers next door; daughter at the table, pushing away this breakfast I made and asking for cereal; husband still in bed, because he had insomnia last night and was awake till 3; dishes scattered across the counter like some kind of apocalypse; stay at the table; finish your breakfast; Robbie! Wake up! ...

But who needs to hear that? Better you imagine my perfect life. 
Happy weekend - perfect or otherwise,
Amanda xx

Cornmeal Pancakes
makes 10-12
adapted from Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Cookbook, circa 1961

I found this recipe in a thrift-store cookbook, a fifteen-center I picked up in the wilds of Arizona. I'd promised my daughter pancakes and we'd run out of flour, but had cornmeal on hand from Thanksgiving cornbread. I made a double batch, and we had them sweet and savoury both over a series of days: with sour cream and pumpkin; leftover spinach curry; saucy raspberries and slathered sour cream. And once Robbie got over the idea that you can't | shouldn't | wha?? have pancakes for dinner, it was all good. They were all good.

The time
Longer than you can imagine. Stir, flip and get meditating.

The ingredients
1 c cornmeal or polenta
1 c plain unbleached flour
1 T baking powder
1 T raw sugar
1 tsp sea salt
2 cups organic milk
2 organic eggs
4 T melted butter

+ butter, syrup, berries, cream, sour cream whatever for serving
*Try to use organic when you can.

The process
1. Mix everything and stir well. Amy Vanderbilt liked to think you could stir things together bits at a time - wet then dry and so on. She probably always wore an apron, too. The reality is, your kids are likely dumping eggs and everything in whatever order suits their fancy, so go with that. It'll be ok.

2. Heat up a griddle till hot, then reduce the heat to med and soak its surface in butter. Dollop on the batter in 1/4 cup-ish quantitites and flip each pancake when it starts to bubble through. They're done when golden and edge-browned - you know what that looks like. Set aside and cover with foil till the whole lot is finished. 

Serve as you like, in ball gowns or jammies.

The cost
So cheap. These are basics, friends, and stuff you could mostly get from your cow and chickens if you had them.