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Mus Musculus

The Management would like to inform its readers that the author of this blog will be, until further notice, incapacitated after seeing what is sometimes referred to as the "common" house mouse in her kitchen, though she adamantly insists there is nothing common about it. It is quite a miracle that she is now able enough to insist on such things, as her first reaction to the aforementioned mouse was to fall over in a dead faint and then bleat hysterically for several hours.

Your regular content will resume as soon as the author can summon the strength to buy traps, bait them, and then remove them with the offending party captured therein. Any assistance in the removal of said traps would be desperately appreciated, as the man of the house is currently on what is often referred to as a "boys weekend" with his university companions and therefore cannot assist in this most gruesome of tasks.

Please send strength and prayers. Oh, and an exterminator.

Patricia Wells's Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado


Instructions for a hot day:

1. Go to a bar and have someone pour you a cold wheat beer. Drink it while beads of moisture collect on the glass, cooling the palms of your hand each time you take a sip. Sit in the window of the bar so you can see your fellow citizens pass by (incidentally, where do they find such cute sandals?). As you finish your beer, the knot of tension in your upper back will slowly disintegrate and you'll walk home in a pleasant fog.

2. At home, find yourself the four smallest, firmest, freshest zucchini you can get your hands on. If you must pick them from a garden patch yourself, do so. Slice them lengthwise with a mandoline, if you've got the nerve, or a very sharp knife (I haven't used a mandoline since the Great Thumb-Slicing Incident of 1993, which I think still has my father traumatized, so let's hope this offhand mention doesn't incur some kind of PTSD in him. Stay cool, Pops.). Lengthwise, I said, not crosswise, like I did. Maybe you should wait a little before finishing your beer and then reading the recipe instructions. Definitely wait before using the mandoline.

3. Dress the paper-thin zucchini slices with a lemon juice dressing and collapse on the couch, which is conveniently situated across from the air conditioner. Wait there until the beads of sweat on your brow and back and arms dry. Kill a millipede for the third time this week and thank your lucky stars to be vacating the apartment in a month. Open the door to the back patio and realize you only have a month to enjoy it. Find yourself torn between hatred for millipedes and love for your patio. Realize the Raid fumes might be getting to your head. Feel a twinge of embarrassment for killing a millipede with roach poison. Try to stop thinking about bugs altogether as they are killing your buzz and ruining your already miniscule appetite.

4. Go back to the couch and sit there in the stream of cold air until goose bumps start to appear on your skin. During this time, you may a. read The New Yorker, b. watch an episode of Big Love, or c. try to imagine just exactly where you'd put the couch and hang the paintings in a two-bedroom dream apartment. Choice c. somehow ends up being the most entertaining.

5. When you have tired of your virtual interior decorator, peel and thinly slice an avocado. Attempt to layer avocado slices along with the marinated zucchini slices on a plate. Artistically, if you may. Drizzle the dressing over the vegetables, then pluck little leaves of thyme off the stalk and drop them around the plate. Realize you don't have any pistachios. Briefly contemplate using salted peanuts. Decide against it. Beer hasn't incapacitated you that much. Sufficiently chilled from your wind-powered air conditioner, go out on the patio and eat your salad.

6. Realize happily that raw zucchini are quite delicious, in a subtle, grassy way. With the faint crunch of sliced zucchini against the creamy avocado, punctuated by the herbal thyme, the salad is cooling and delicate and lovely. Think about when you lived down the street from Patricia Wells in Paris and how you used to dream about doing her dinner party dishes in return for cooking classes in Provence. Remember all the one-plate meals you ate in your little studio there, and how lonely you were, which makes you realize just how un-lonely you currently feel. Finish your delicate little dinner and sit in the heat for a few minutes longer. The air-conditioner can wait.

Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado

Serves 4

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus additional as needed
1/4 cup best-quality pistachio oil, almond oil or extra virgin olive oil
4 small zucchini (about 4 ounces each), trimmed
1 ripe avocado, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/4 cup salted pistachio nuts
4 sprigs fresh lemon thyme, preferably with flowers

1. Stir together lemon juice and  1/2 teaspoon salt in small jar. Add oil, cover  and shake to blend.

2. Slice zucchini lengthwise as thinly as possible, using mandoline or very sharp knife. Spread slices on platter and drizzle with lemon mixture. Tilt platter to evenly coat slices. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Alternate zucchini and avocado slices on individual salad plates, slightly overlapping each slice. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts. Season with salt to taste, garnish with lemon thyme, and serve

Marion Cunningham's Yeast-Raised Waffles


(Oh dear. This is awkward. I think I'm going to write this entire post in parentheses. You know, to mitigate the awkwardness. If it's in parentheses, then it's still sort of just a thought in my head and not an entirely un-take-back-able statement. Right? I don't know. Lord help me.)

(So here's what happened. Last week, Russ Parsons published this article in the Los Angeles Times about waffles. Goodness knows we are a waffle-friendly household. And since there is no other waffle more talked about than Marion Cunningham's yeast-raised waffle (am I wrong?), I was quite excited to try my hand at this legendary recipe.)

(You make a batter with active dry yeast and let it ferment overnight in the fridge. But I didn't get started until early Sunday morning - on Saturday, we were too busy looking at apartments out in faraway neighborhoods and getting into arguments about where we should live and how much we should pay and, oh, the joys of New York City living, they really are such a pleasure - so I let the batter ferment on my kitchen counter top for an hour or two instead. It doubled in size and smelled deliciously yeasty and had all these appealing bubbles and a gorgeous foamy top. Very promising, indeed - as was that one place out in Forest Hills, the one I can't stop thinking about and, holy hell, does that mean we should take it, help me, readers, help me.)

(I heated up the waffle iron and we debated the merits of Bak-Kleene versus melted butter, but it turned out that neither was really that necessary. My non-stick waffle iron performed like a champ, spitting out waffles with nary a sticking corner in sight. It was impressive. Less impressive, however, were (gulp, double gulp) the waffles.)

(Did I actually just say that out loud?)


(For starters, the waffles, while crisp and browned on the bottom, were flabby and a pallid, yellowish hue on top. Also, their insides were a little too batter-y. And lastly, they were buttery to the point of greasiness.)

(We ate the first round in silence, chewing carefully. Ben tentatively ventured that they might not be the best waffles we'd ever made. With the second round, I tried flipping the waffles in the iron in the hopes that the pale, yellow side might get a little toastier. Hardly. With the third and fourth batch, I overfilled the iron, which resulted in the delicate lacy waffle you see in the photograph. The underside, however, still looked totally under-baked. The taste was better now, though, and Ben made the good point that the warm syrup-doused waffles tasted like French toast - it must have been the yeast, I think. I still found them far too buttery for my taste. Unpleasantly heavy, they sat in my stomach while I pondered the impossible.)

(Could it be that I didn't like the world's most beloved waffle? Would anyone still take me seriously after this? What on earth would become of me?)

(It's not really clear. We spent the rest of the day calculating rent budgets and train passes, imagining life in a spacious 2-bedroom apartment with leafy tree-tops instead of air shafts for a view, and weekends spent strolling down the West Side Highway. Which made me think - if there's room in this city for all the different folks we saw out yesterday, there must also be room for li'l ol' yeasted-waffle-disliking me. Right? Oh, pretty please!)

Yeast-Raised Waffles
Makes 16 waffles

1 package active dry yeast
2 cups milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups flour
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1. Place one-half cup warm water in a large mixing bowl (the batter will double in volume) and sprinkle in the yeast. When dissolved, stir in the milk, butter, salt, sugar, flour and eggs and beat until smooth and blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

2. Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the baking soda. The batter will deflate and become about as thin as soft yogurt. Cook the waffles according to the manufacturer's instructions for your waffle maker. Serve with maple syrup.

Judy Rodgers's Mizuna with Potatoes and Shallot Vinaigrette


Nostalgia for the Italian countryside is all well and good, but some things can happen only in New York.

Consider this: walking down 17th Street at dusk last night, I saw a group of people clustered in front of a rug store. As I got closer, I heard strains of choral music and before I knew it, I was standing in the gutter in front of The Renaissance Street Singers, listening to a 15th century hymnal as pretty young things in bright frocks passed us by and a toddler noodled around on the sidewalk. I'd come from Union Square, populated by  21st century skateboarders and leggy models and red-faced suits, and passed directly into another time. A few minutes later, the singers dispersed and I headed home in the setting sun.

It was kind of magical.

All week long, I've been waking early in the morning, still adjusting to Eastern Standard Time. And each morning, I've rolled over and reached for a slim little book sitting on my bedside table. Edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler (who was kind enough to send me a copy), it's a collection of essays about eating and cooking for one. Sandwiched between Laurie Colwin's famous "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant" and Rosa Jurjevics's "Food Nomad" (Jurjevics is Colwin's daughter), the essays range from the strictly utilitarian (Marcella Hazan) to the unabashedly literary (Haruki Murakami).

The collection's pretty charming: M.F.K. Fisher complains about her too-oft reliance on the "occasional egg" for dinner, Steve Almond waxes rhapsodic about an odd concoction called the Quesarito and Mary Cantwell fights for her right to dine out alone. Each essay is a pleasantly voyeuristic snapshot, like looking into someone's grocery basket. And it got me thinking about my own habits when I'm home alone, looking for dinner. Sometimes it means I get to buy the stingingly spicy hot & sour soup from the Sichuan restaurant up the street. Other times, it means I can make the sauteed cherry tomato-canned tuna pasta sauce that Ben just doesn't like. A simple green salad and a wedge of cheese, a broiled steak, or baked beans and broccoli - all of these, too, are my dinners for one.

Last night, inspired by your comments and armed with a recipe that Judy Rodgers published in the New York Times five years ago, I made a funny little salad of spiky mizuna leaves, creamy potatoes, sharp slivers of shallots, boiled eggs, and a tangy dressing to bind it all together. I'll be honest, this wasn't my favorite meal. The mizuna was full-grown and untameable, so even cut into bite-sized pieces, I found myself fighting the leaves all the way. I think I'm more of a frisee kind of girl. Also, raw shallots leave me interminably thirsty. Anyone else? It's so odd. I prefer to avoid them.

But, you know, despite the salad, it was a satisfying evening nonetheless. Sometimes it's just the little things. I had the apartment to myself, I was eating up the greens in my CSA box, clearing the pantry of old shallots and even older potatoes, I could giggle with my mouth full at The Office reruns, and daydream happily for the weekend. I had dinner on the table and a full sensation in my soul.

And you? Tell me what you make when you're home alone with an eggplant, or without. I'd love to know. Something tells me you've got some interesting meals to share.

Baby Mustard Greens with Potatoes and Shallot Vinaigrette
Serves 4

3/8 pound Yellow Finn, Bintje or German butterball potatoes, peeled and cut in irregular bite-size chunks
Sea salt
6 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
1 large shallot, slivered
4 ounces baby red mustard greens or mizuna, rinsed and dried
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1 teaspoon freshly crushed black peppercorns

1. Place potatoes in a saucepan with cold water to cover. Season water liberally with salt. Bring to a simmer, cook just until potatoes are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, then drain. When potatoes stop steaming, transfer them to a wide bowl.

2. Combine oil, vinegar and salt to taste, and drizzle about one-third of this dressing over potatoes. Add shallot. Fold together with a rubber spatula. Dressing will pick up creaminess from potatoes. Set aside.

3. Place mustard greens or mizuna in a second wide bowl suitable for serving. Toss with half of the remaining dressing. Add potato mixture, and fold in gently. Halve eggs lengthwise, then cut in crosswise slices  1/8-inch thick. Scatter over salad, add remaining dressing, and fold once or twice very gently. Dust with crushed pepper, and serve.

Sweet Savory Cafe's Bagels


Things that have made me happy in the past few days:

1. Molly Stevens' book about braising, which I'd requested from the library, oh, six months ago, was finally released to me this week. (Granted, in June hot June, so the idea of braising seems entirely perverted at this moment, but still! I can ogle the book and that's enough.)

2. My CSA started deliveries again, so I now have bok choy, mizuna (help, readers, help!) and summer savory sitting in my fridge. Red sails lettuce was my dinner last night. Do you belong to a CSA yet? Get cracking! (Last night I heard talk of some mythical-sounding CSA not far from here that not only delivers vegetables, but fruit and yogurt and honey, too! I'm on the case.)

3. I made bagels.


Yes! You heard that correctly! You might ask yourself what on earth could possess a self-respecting New Yorker like myself to make her own bagels, when she has plenty of worthy, nay, superior specimens all around her. And I would answer, this blog, that's what. I mean, what kind of question is that, anyway?

Susan LaTempa
discovered these unboiled bagels in California while I was away, making me as intrigued as she was. After all, I've always wanted to make my own bagels, but the aforementioned ubiquity of good ones here and the fact that making your own involves boiling and baking and malt syrup and god knows what else just discouraged me in the end.

But not this time.

I brought home a sack of Gold Medal's new Harvest King flour (endorsed on the back by none other than Rose Levy Beranbaum), pulled my instant yeast out of the fridge (I'll be honest, since No-Knead, it's been sitting rather dormant there), stuck the dough blade into my food processor, and got to work.

My first observation? This recipe makes what seems like an enormous amount of dough. If you've got a stand mixer, bless your heart, then use it. My Robot Coupe is a hardy fellow and managed with the dough, but I'll admit we had a few dicey moments. With stalled motors and funny smells and other frightening stuff.

My second observation? Making bagels is easy, folks. Really. You bang the dough together in a matter of minutes, let it rise (and, oh, does it rise. I love instant yeast), punch it down (best part of the process, really) and form it into bagels. That's it! I picked up my farm loot and caught up on Big Love in the process.

And as for the results, I was pleasantly surprised. The bagels have an appealing chew to them, a nice crunchy bottom and a good crumb. They don't have the heft of traditional boiled bagels and lack that toasty flavor that only malt can supply, but they are pretty delicious for what they are. Plus, they'll impress the heck out of most people you'll serve them to. Spread with cream cheese or a little butter, they might even comfort a homesick New Yorker, stuck in foreign lands.

I'll be spreading mine with my mother's sour cherry jam - my own Italian-American version of breakfast this morning.

(Oh, and don't forget the poppy or sesame seeds - sprinkle them on after the egg wash. I wish I had.)

Makes 12 bagels

6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 1/4 pounds (between 7 1/2 and 9 cups) bread flour, divided, plus additional if needed to work with dough
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg

1. In as stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine 3 cups water with the sugar, vegetable oil and 3 cups of the flour. Mix it at low speed until combined.

2. Add the yeast and another 3 cups flour and continue to knead the dough at low speed until all of the flour has been incorporated.

3. Add the salt and the remaining flour. Knead the dough at medium speed until it's soft and smooth and it comes away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is sticky add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time, until smooth and no longer sticky.

4. Roll the dough into a ball. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a lightweight cloth or loosely with plastic wrap. Leave the dough for about 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on room temperature, until it doubles in volume.

5. Punch down the dough. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 12 even balls. (If dough is reverting when shaping, let it rest for a minute and start the process again.) To keep the dough from drying out, place a damp towel on top.

6. Roll each ball to about 15 inches in length. Press and roll the ends together to form a bagel.

7. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Place 4 to 6 bagels on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving 1 to 1 1/2 inches between each bagel as they will spread. Cover the bagels with a cloth. Allow them to grow by half again in size, about 15 minutes. They should be light and fluffy. Widen the holes in the bagels to 1 1/2 inches each, as they will shrink while baking.

8. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, then brush bagels with the egg wash. Bake until golden, about 20 to 22 minutes.

Abuela Margarita's Flan


It's always so difficult, isn't it? To find yourself on the wrong end of a holiday, trying desperately to remember the sight and texture of everything that had been in front of you just hours before: the glint of sun on the acacia leaves, the tiny lizard shimmying along the terracotta patio, the sweet-smelling breeze brushing up against your skin, salty from a morning at the beach.

On the drive to the train station yesterday morning, I told myself sternly to memorize every bump in the road, every burnished field we passed, every not-yet-entirely-unfurled sunflower head, every quiet farm stand selling peaches, every putt-putting motorcycle, every touch from my mother's hand. Like pearls on a broken string, I can feel the sensation of these things falling away in little pops. It's funny what distance does - makes everything you had so clearly in front of you turn blurry. Sharp edges turn soft, warmth fades to cool, the storm that is love and grief at taking leave becomes a gentle lump somewhere in your chest that you try your best to ignore.

I sat in my bed this morning, the window pulled open and New York City trucks rattling the frame as they drove by. Suddenly, a whiff of linden blossoms blew in, the very smell that had been hanging in the air all week in Italy. There I sat, very much in one place, when the scent of another came in. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I could see my grandfather sitting on the top stoop of his house in his slippers, my mother with the garden hose by the roses, my aunt waving from the gate, the tree tops rippling in the wind. Then I breathed out and they were gone.

Sometimes, I wonder at my life. Is this how it will always be? Being in one place and wanting another, not knowing how to accept that a body cannot be divided and sent in diverging directions. Here and there, near and far. I think I am lucky to have both.


Lucky, too, to have spent a week eating milky-sweet ricotta, firm cherries from the orchard, stewy roast peppers with four generations of my family at the dinner table, boozy pistachio gelato in Urbino's main piazza before a warm afternoon thunderstorm, flaky crescia sfogliata filled with stewed chard after a few diligent hours in the Ducal palace, drippy, sun-warmed melons on the back patio.

And with Ben's brother-in-law joining my aunt in the kitchen at times, we had paella and flan as well. Lucky us, indeed. One night, after a Marchigianian feast of homemade tagliatelle with pigeon ragu, tomatoes stuffed with wild fennel-scented bread crumbs, and rosemary-roasted rabbit, Francisco brought out his abuela Margarita's flan, eggy and cool and spiced just so with cinnamon and lemon. We ate slices of it, sauced with gently bitter caramel, under the starry night sky.

Though all good things, maddeningly, must come to an end, at least the clothes in our suitcase still smell of the herbs my mother cut from my grandfather's garden, a jar of our neighbor's acacia honey fills my kitchen with sunshine, 903 photographs from the last ten days clog my computer and I've got a few prized recipes to recreate in my own kitchen. Best of all, when I close my eyes, I can still see red poppies lining the road and feel my mother hug me tightly. That'll have to do until next time. Which can't come soon enough. 

Serves 10-12

200 grams of granulated sugar, plus 5 tablespoons
1/2 liter of milk (whole is preferred, but 1% works)
1 organic lemon
1 cinnamon stick
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle 5 tablespoons of sugar at the bottom of a cake pan, and add a judicious squeeze of lemon juice. Place the pan over medium heat and swirl the pan occasionally, until the sugar melts and then caramelizes. Let the sugar turn a deep brown, then turn off the heat. Don't let the sugar burn, but do let it color substantially. Set aside

2. Heat the milk in a heavy saucepan with a 1-inch piece of lemon peel and the cinnamon stick. When the milk comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let the milk sit for a few minutes. While the milk is steeping, whisk together the eggs and the remaining sugar until the mixture is frothy and pale.

3. Discard the lemon peel and cinnamon stick and very slowly pour a thin stream of hot milk into the beaten egg mixture, taking care not to let the eggs curdle. When the milk has been entirely incorporated into the eggs, pour the custard through a strainer into the caramel-lined pan. Place the pan carefully on a rimmed cookie sheet. Pour water into the cookie sheet until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

4. Put the pan in the hot oven and bake for an hour, or until the top of the custard is burnished and the custard has set. (A cake tester inserted into the custard should come out clean.) Carefully remove the cake pan from the cookie sheet and let it cool on a rack. When the custard has cooled, store the pan in the fridge. Before serving, place a large plate over the cake pan, then flip the pan so that the caramel is on top of the custard. Cut into wedges and serve.

All My Bags Are Packed, I'm Ready To Go


Well. So. Hmm.

I was going to tell you all about a peppery pineapple chutney that Florence Fabricant wrote about a few years ago that I made earlier this week as an homage to the deliciously fresh pineapple salsas we ate in Bermuda, but it turns out that'll have to wait.

I've got a plane to catch!

Ben's sister is getting married in Mataelpino this weekend and after we sing and dance at her wedding, we're off to spend a week with my family. A week seems pitifully short. I don't exactly know just how I'll get back on that airplane at the end of the week, but what's the point of thinking about that now? I've got to shine my dancing shoes, prepare to eat my weight in sun-ripened tomatoes, dream about naps on the beach, and look forward to holding my family so tight that my arms hurt.

(Of course, this is the week that I want to cook every single thing published in the Dining section. I mean, tuna meatballs? Seriously, even with all the good stuff awaiting me, I am dying to make those now. If I was the kind of person who had time on her hands, I would've made those last night and thus had a delightful little meal to eat on the airplane tonight instead of the abomination I'm sure we'll be served. But, you know, if I was the kind of person with time on her hands, I would also be posting more than once a week at this point, but I think I've beaten that horse to death lately, so here's me letting that go. I Am Letting It Go.)

(Though after reading the mango article over here, I suppose I should be grateful that it was published just as I'm leaving town, because now the urge to buy a case of Indian mangoes despite their exorbitant price tag is almost as strong as the urge to see my mother again. Well, I exaggerate a bit. Not much, though.)