Grace Young's Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Hello, good people! It is a beautiful June day. I am drinking a glass of Apfelschorle (which is the German term for when you mix fizzy mineral water with apple juice) and it is being cooled by the most beautiful ice cubes that I make using this mold, bringing me untold amounts of joy each time I pop out a perfectly beveled little cube. Mercury is retrograde until the end of the month and thus we have been gnashing our teeth for a week straight about all the various things that have gone haywire (to name only a few: broken brake lights on one car, a busted tire on another, a child who insisted on shoving a CD into the delicate CD player mouth of a 16-year-old audio appliance while a CD while already was playing inside of it whyyyyyy), but the fine weather and good humor and fancy ice cubes go a long way in soothing the blow.

Besides, one thing Mercury Retrograde apparently doesn't affect is cooking, thank the moon and stars! 

The most revelatory dish I made this week was this big old pan of hot lettuce. Yes! I know that some of you will look at those words, "hot" and "lettuce", and sail right on by. But wait! Don't go just yet! Cooked lettuce is amazing and just happens to a staple in both Italian and Chinese cooking, so you know it has to be good. And it is! (Besides, I'm just messing with you. Stir-fried iceberg sounds so much sexier than hot lettuce.)

I don't ever eat iceberg lettuce. I don't ever buy it. (Though the excellent comments on this post are all you ever need if you are iceberg curious and need some ideas.) In fact, I stopped eating salad greens entirely a few years ago because I have a hard time digesting them raw. But when I got this big box of vegetables delivered a few weeks ago, a big old head of iceberg lettuce was in the box too. I let in languish in the fridge until this week and the outermost layers had to be removed. The inner leaves and core were still fresh and sweet and crunchy. 

It was just the thing to use in this recipe I'd been saving for...that one day I found myself in possession of iceberg lettuce. You chop up the lettuce into biggish chunks, and fry garlic slices and scallions in oil. Then you add the lettuce chunks to the pan and stir-fry them for just a minute. Then in goes the magic concoction of equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine (plus sugar and pepper). You cook the lettuce, stirring well so that the sauce coats every piece, and a minute later your meal is done. Pile it in a plate with some rice alongside and you've got my ideal dinner. Sweet and savory, silky and toothsome. It is so delicious and satisfying, not usually what you'd think to describe a head of iceberg lettuce, amirite? 

The recipe comes from this cookbook and Grace Young says you can use other vegetables in this exact preparation with great results. I'm going to do baby boy chop (ed: This is the funniest autocorrect of my entire life, so I'm leaving it, but obviously I meant to write bok choy!) next and then maybe romaine. Ooh. And iceberg again, too, of course!

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Grace Young Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce
Serves 2
Note: You can, instead of iceberg, use romaine lettuce, spinach, watercress, baby bok choy, asparagus, snow peas and snap peas. 

1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine or dry sherry
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil or other neutral oil
4 scallions, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or smashed
Half a medium head iceberg lettuce, cored, outermost leaves discarded, inner leaves torn into 4-inch wide pieces (or substitute 12 ounces of other vegetables)
Kosher salt, to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine or sherry, sugar, and pepper; set sauce aside.

2. Heat a wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add peanut oil, half of the scallions (including all of the white and light green pieces), and garlic and cook until garlic is golden, about 5 seconds. Add lettuce and stir-fry until lettuce softens slightly, about 1 minute. Drizzle in sauce and cook until lettuce is just coated with the sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt, divide between 4 bowls while lettuce is just tender and still bright green, and garnish with remaining scallions.


Ottolenghi's Zucchini with Harissa and Lemon

Harissa Zucchini

A few days after arriving back in Berlin, I was sent a huge crate of produce by Fresh Fruit Germany. Every single piece of produce was in perfect condition and with so much flavor! It was the perfect welcome back to my kitchen after nearly four weeks away. Cooking my way through the crate was so much more fun than first picking out a recipe, then going grocery shopping, then getting started in the kitchen. Instead, I had to quickly come up with ways to use up all the eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes and leeks (just to name a few) that were in peak condition and wouldn't last long otherwise.

I made frittata with peppers, potatoes and prosciutto from Six Seasons. I made Alison Roman's potato and leek soup with sour cream and vinegar (and yes, I left out the dill and the soup was still stellar). I made cucumber raita and Greek salad and bean salad and pasta alla Norma. But the dish that surprised and pleased us the most was this marvelous bowl of soft zucchini dressed with preserved lemons and rose harissa. The recipe comes from Ottolenghi's latest book Ottolenghi Flavor

I cut a few corners, as I almost always do with Ottolenghi recipes. I used far less oil, just cooked the garlic for a minute or two, then added the zucchini without removing the garlic. Also I skipped the basil because we didn't have any (though I'm sure it would be even more delicious with basil). This recipe makes a pretty sizable amount of zucchini, and I fully anticipated having leftovers. But I didn't anticipate Hugo falling in love with it and eating the largest portion! He was fully obsessed. I was pretty amazed, since it's not just rather spicy, but also rather complex, between the chile, the preserved lemon and the rose harissa. But Hugo couldn't get enough. Three helpings, if I remember correctly, and then it was all gone and I was promising to make it again soon.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Ottolenghi's Zucchini with Harissa and Lemon
Serves 4
Adapted from Ottolenghi Flavor

2 tablespoons olive oil 
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 tablespoon rose harissa
1 red chile, finely chopped
½ preserved lemon, finely chopped, discarding any seeds
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 kilo zucchini, finely sliced (about 3 good-sized zucchini)
Generous handful basil leaves, roughly torn, optional
Salt

1. Place a large, non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat with the oil and garlic. Gently fry for a couple minutes, stirring often, until soft, golden and aromatic. Don’t let the garlic become browned or crisp, so turn the heat down if necessary. 

2. Add the zucchini and 1¼ teaspoons of salt. Cook for 18 minutes, stirring often, until the zucchini are very soft, but are still mostly holding their shape (you don’t want them to brown, so turn the heat down if necessary).

3. While the zucchini are cooking, stir the harissa, chile, preserved lemon and lemon juice together in a serving bowl. Set aside

4. When the zucchini are done, stir through half the basil, if using, and transfer to a bowl. Toss the zucchini with the dressing and taste for seasoning. Before serving, finish with the remaining basil, if using. 


Andy Baraghani's Ground Meat Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes

Ground Beef Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes

Bruno and I went to our favorite Asian grocery store the other day and I was able to kill at least 30 minutes (amateur, I know) by letting him pull the wheeled shopping basket and peer into every single (!) freezer case and stare at all the bottles of chili sauce and all the bags of rice flour and ask me a million questions about frozen dumplings and frozen anchovies and frozen edamame in his funny little mix of German and English. I lost him a few times and always ended up finding him transfixed in front of a display of rice crackers or wasabi peas or a silvery array of Capri Suns right at his eye level. ("What's daaaat," he whispered in awe.)

Reader, I bought him a Capri Sun because I am not a monster.

I also bought kimchi and two kinds of rice and mirin and Shaoxing wine and a sushi rolling mat and green curry paste. And refrigerated Korean rice cakes, which I love so much. In the annals of memorable meals I've had in this life is a lunchtime feast eaten at a Korean restaurant in suburban Los Angeles in the long-gone spring of 2009. I was in L.A. for work and the friend I was staying with took me to this place that he'd heard was one of the best Korean restaurants in the city. I've never seen so much food on one table for lunch and all of it was, indeed, sublime, especially this one dish, a bubbling, rust-colored stew that had fresh rice cakes snipped into it by a briskly efficient waitress.

Sigh. Sunshine. Los Angeles. Restaurants. Friends. Airplanes. Newness. Noodling down the freeway in a rental car with a sunroof all by myself.

As much as I love Korean rice cakes, I'm still trying to figure out how I should best use them up at home. (I beg you for inspiration, please, dear readers!) The other night, I made this easy little ground meat stir-fry from Bon Appétit, which was tasty and quick (the kids refused to touch it because they are maniacs, but it's actually very child-friendly). You soak the rice cakes in some water while you fry ground meat (I only had beef, though I think pork would be better here and it's what was called for in the original) until it's browned and crispy (big chunks preferable). Then you add the soaked rice cakes, ginger, garlic and scallions and cook, stirring vigorously and frequently, lest the rice cakes glue to the pan (I used a cast-iron pan, nonstick would have probably been better). At the end you stir in some butter, soy and sesame oil for flavor. The whole thing goes very quickly and is a satisfying little meal.

(The eagle-eyed among you will note the tiny cubes of zucchini in the pan - I had one perfect zucchini in the fridge and I thought I'd make this a one-pot meal by adding it to the mix. Also, I made the dish with more meat than in the original recipe and I liked the ratio, so that's what's in the recipe below. I think a handful of bean sprouts might be nice here too.)

But today I can't stop thinking that what I really want to make next with my remaining rice cakes is, cough, real Korean food, not the Bon Appétit-ized version. Readers, what are your favorite Korean cookbooks?

Ground Meat Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

8 ounces/225 grams Korean rice cakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb/455 grams ground pork, chicken or beef
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
5 scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
Salt, freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. Place rice cakes in a medium bowl and pour in cold water to cover. Let soak 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, and pat dry.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add ground meat and cook, undisturbed, until browned underneath, about 2 minutes. Break up with a wooden spoon or a spatula and continue to cook, stirring and breaking into large pieces, until browned all over but still pink in places, about 2 minutes more. Add rice cakes, ginger, garlic, and half of scallions; season with salt and plenty of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through and rice cakes are browned in spots, about 4 minutes. If pan looks a bit dry at any point, pour in a little more oil. Remove pan from heat; add butter, soy sauce, and sesame oil and toss to coat.

3. Transfer mixture to a platter and top with remaining scallions.


Easiest Instant Pot Risotto

Easiest Instant Pot Risotto

This is an unapologetic ode to my Instant Pot, which I love and adore. I bought it used several years ago and yes, it did take some time to get over my initial fears of figuring it out, but once I started understanding how to best put it to use, I fell hard and fast. Yes, people, you can be a hardcore home cook and also love the Instant Pot! Loving to cook does not exclude loving the Instant Pot!

What I think is essential is figuring out how you personally will get the most use out of it. What might be important to me will not necessarily be as important to you. For example, I love the Instant Pot for making chicken broth. It's easier than cooking it on the stove and it results in a more flavorful broth, plus it's quicker. I also love it for cooking rice, as I've mentioned before. And braised meat and palak paneer, among other Indian recipes. (This book by Sarah Copeland is an absolutely wonderful must-have if you have an Instant Pot.) But the most important thing for me is Instant Pot risotto. I'll literally never make risotto on the stove top again.

Not only does risotto in the Instant Pot take a fraction of the time to make, but you barely even have to stir it. PLUS,  you're guaranteed the most perfect texture every time. It's magic and absolutely worth the price of the pot. (We eat risotto at least once a week and it is one of those rare meals that everyone loves and I don't even bother serving anything else with it, so it's easy as pie for me.) The first time I made IP risotto, we'd spent the afternoon at the playground and came home just at dinnertime. The children were hangry, as, frankly, was I, and I had prepared nothing for dinner. There was a moment of panic and then I pivoted to making this risotto and when I had a hot, perfect dinner on the table less than 15 minutes later, I felt like I could have bench-pressed a car.

I used a recipe from The Kitchn to get my head around quantities and time, but my risotto is more vegetable-forward and less cheese-centric. I usually make risotto with a box of frozen peas, but sometimes I'll use a medium zucchini, finely diced (as I did here). You can, of course, go nuts and use both! Or you could skip both and just add saffron to make risotto Milanese! (Add the saffron with the broth.) You can use fancy homemade broth, or store-bought boxed broth, or even just water with some bouillon cubes, which is what I usually do. (I use Italian Star cubes that I buy in bulk in Italy or at the Italian wholesaler here in Berlin.) If you have white wine, use it. If you don't (I rarely do), just substitute more water/broth. It's a very riffable base recipe and I love it so much I've committed it to memory.

Instant Pot Risotto

This is what the risotto looks like immediately after removing the lid. You have to then quickly give it a good stir, add the grated cheese and stir again. And then you have to serve it right away - risotto must be eaten hot hot hot, just like pasta, or the texture changes and it goes all wrong.

IP Risotto

Okay, now I'm very curious: What are your reasons for loving your Instant Pot?

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Easiest Instant Pot Risotto
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

4 cups (950 ml) low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or water with two bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups (400 grams) risotto rice
1/2 cup (120 ml) white wine, optional (if not using, add an additional 1/2 cup broth)
1 box frozen peas or 1 medium zucchini, finely diced
1/2 cup (45 grams) finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Warm the broth or water. Set aside.

2. Set the Instant Pot to SAUTÉ and pour the oil (or the butter, if using) into the pot. Add the finely chopped onion and sauté until fragrant and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat every grain with fat. Cook, stirring, for another minute or two.

3. If using the wine, add and stir well. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated. If not, proceed directly to Step 4.

4. Turn off the SAUTÉ function. Add the warmed broth and stir in the frozen peas or diced zucchini. Cover the Instant Pot and set it to MANUAL, HIGH, and dial the time to 5 minutes. The Instant Pot will take about 3 minutes to come to pressure.

5. When the 5 minutes are over, immediately release the pressure using a QUICK release. Remove the lid. Add the grated cheese, stir well, season to taste, and serve immediately.


Ottolenghi's Pea Fritters with Za'atar and Feta

Ottolenghi's Pea Fritters with Feta and Za'atar

 A quick, quick dispatch from over here because it's 5:06 pm and my mother, who kindly agreed to watch Bruno so I could work for a few hours, is leaving soon. Yes, Bruno's home again from Kita, which is supposed to be closed to all but essential workers. (It's not, though; there are plenty of people sending their kids who most definitely are not essential workers, but don't be surprised, the pamphlet explaining the exceptions runs more than 30 pages long, TELL ME ABOUT THAT FAMED GERMAN EFFICIENCY AGAIN WHY DON'T YOU.) After two weeks of spring break, Hugo's back at school for his 2 1/4 hours of daily learning and I'm back to chauffeuring him and taking care of Bruno full-time and it's only Monday and I'm already ready for hara-kiri, LET'S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE SO I DON'T CHEW MY FACE OFF.

Fritters! PEA fritters! From the excellent pages of Ottolenghi Simple, which is the ONLY Ottolenghi book you truly need, in my extremely humble opinion. (Fine, you can have Jerusalem and if you bake, Sweet too, but Simple is truly what it promises - excellent, fast and - for Ottolenghi - simple recipes that will knock your socks off almost every time.) I've had my eyes on these pea fritters ever since getting the book years ago, but for whatever reason (fear of frying?) didn't make them until Saturday night. DO NOT REPEAT MY MISTAKE AND WAIT TO MAKE THESE. Make them right away! Today! Tomorrow! For no reason! They're so easy and SO delicious and...fun? I hate calling food fun, but these actually are fun? I mean, frozen peas! Blitzed into rubble! Mixed with za'atar and feta and mint and some baking powder/flour to help them puff and aerate! Fun!

They are an actual delight and when eaten hot from the plate, with lemon squeezed over, and a glass of cold white wine to wash them down, like an actual civilized person who still holds the potential to entertain something like a sexy aperitivo hour, may even hold the power to transport you from your miserable existence into an alternate reality for a brief, tongue-singeing moment. I AM NOT OVERSELLING THESE, I SWEAR.

One final note: If you have eaters at your table who do not like feta (ASK ME HOW I KNOW), you can leave out the feta and these babies will still be absolutely wonderfully delicious. Your mystical transportation may become somewhat more...limited in its scope, but it's still worth going for it.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Pea Fritters with Za'atar and Feta
Makes 25 - 30 fritters
Adapted from Ottolenghi Simple
Print this recipe!

500 grams (1 lb 2 oz) frozen peas, defrosted
120 grams (4 1/2 oz) ricotta
3 eggs, beaten
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
Salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons za’atar
100 grams (2/3 cup) all purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
20 grams (small handful) mint leaves, finely shredded
200 grams (7 oz) feta, broken into 2cm pieces
800ml (3 cups) sunflower oil, for frying

1. Put the peas in a food processor and pulse until roughly crushed, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the ricotta, eggs, lemon zest (reserve the lemon, cut into wedges for serving), three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and mix well. Add the za’atar, flour and baking powder, mix until just combined, then gently fold in the mint and feta, so it doesn’t break up.

2. Pour the oil into a medium saucepan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, use two dessert spoons to scoop up balls of the fritter mixture: they won’t be uniform in shape, but should each be about 4cm wide. You should be able to fry about six or seven at a time: carefully lower them into the oil and fry for three to four minutes, turning them once, until cooked through and golden-brown. (If the fritters are cooking too quickly, reduce the temperature, so they cook right through to the middle.) Once done, lift the cooked fritters from the hot oil with a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and serve immediately or keep warm in an oven.

3. Repeat with the remaining fritters, and serve warm with lemon wedges alongside.


Towpath's Oatmeal with Walnuts, Butter and Demerara Sugar

Towpath's Oatmeal with Walnuts and Butter

A few years ago, I made an orange-scented Tuscan olive oil cake that I loved so much, simple yet perfect. The recipe came from Towpath, the seasonal East London cafe owned by Lori De Mori and Laura Jackson, and was included in The London Cookbook by Aleksandra Crapanzano. I'd heard about Towpath from Rachel and Brian and various other discerning people over the years, but without having ever been there myself, I just thought it was a cafe with nice food in London. Not much mystery there.

Well, in the meantime, Lori and Laura published their own cookbook, Towpath: Recipes and Stories, and I was sent a copy by their publisher Chelsea Green in the fall. Upon reading the book, it's safe to say that I was wrong to think of Towpath as just a café with nice food in London. The book makes clear that Towpath is more than that; it is a family, an institution, a state of mind. Idiosyncratic, personal, completely unique. My travel fantasies have taken on baroque proportions over the past 12 months (whose haven't, I ask you?), but I'm particularly fond of the one in which we travel around the United Kingdom, alternating between exploring small towns and cities and hiking in vast tracts of wild countryside, and a stop at Towpath features centrally in this fantasy.

The Towpath cookbook is organized by month, because Towpath closes from November until March (usually) and because the kitchen's cooking hews so closely to the seasons. The book's recipes toggle between restaurant-y dishes with various components (though always appealingly rustic and largely approachable) and simple meals doable for any level of home cook. It skews Italian (Lori De Mori has a home in Tuscany), but with lots of other Mediterranean influences and the kinds of "new English" flavors that have become a hallmark of recipes from England over the past 20 years. In between the recipes are little essays about the restaurant itself and its quirky community of revolving employees and ever-loyal patrons. For anyone who's ever dreamed of opening a cafe or restaurant that is an extension of their home, Towpath is that dream come to life.

I've made lots of things from the pages of the book, including a Tuscan beef stew (peposo) and a Neapolitan sausage ragù, and I've so many earmarked things to get to (including pickled radicchio with toasted breadcrumbs and mozzarella, which sounds like the summer dinner of my dreams), but funnily enough, the recipe that has had the most effect on me is one of the simplest things in the book. It's barely a recipe, more an idea, the oatmeal (porridge, here) with walnuts and butter and raw sugar.

It's the first recipe in the book, for March, when Towpath opens again after a long winter break. It's been on their menu since the beginning. I know it seems prosaic, but for me, the recipe unlocked the potential of eating oatmeal, transforming it from something dutiful and humdrum into something I crave. (Oatmeal!)

Towpath uses pinhead oats, while I stick with rolled oats. They cook them with milk, I cook them with water. But the oats, either way, are salted, then topped with toasted walnuts, a lump of butter (my American grandmother buttered her oatmeal, so I love this touch) and a sprinkle of raw (demerara) sugar. The interplay of textures, from the creamy oats to the toasty, velvety walnuts to the sparkly crunch of the raw sugar that keeps its integrity as you eat, is a delight. The balance of sweetness and saltiness with the homey oats, rich butter and earthy walnuts is, too. I love this breakfast and the ritual of making it (scooping out a spoonful of soft butter, cracking the walnuts with satisfaction, the final scattering of the coarse-grained and glittering sugar).

Now, when I think of oatmeal for breakfast, it is Towpath's way and only Towpath's way; you can keep your berries and milk, your cinnamon and apples, your chia seeds and maple syrup. It's walnuts, butter and raw sugar forever for me.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Oatmeal with Butter, Walnuts and Demerara Sugar
Adapted from Towpath: Recipes and Stories
Serves 1
Print this recipe!

1/3 - 1/2 cup rolled oats (depending on how hungry you are)
Pinch of salt
5 - 8 walnuts (depending on how hungry you are)
1 to 2 teaspoons salted or unsalted butter
2 teaspoons raw (demerara) sugar

1. Place the oats in a small sauce pan with twice as much water. Add the salt. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the oatmeal is the consistency you like. Scrape into a serving bowl.

2. Crack the walnuts and crumble them with your fingers over the oatmeal. Top with the butter and sugar.

3. Eat. The recipe is easily doubled, tripled or quadrupled.


Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag

Tuscan Kale Saag

Today, I thought to myself earlier, I would very much like to run away. Just, you know, walk out the front door and keep going, ending up in Rajasthan or the English countryside or an ice cliff in Greenland. I don't care where, really, just as long as it's not here, I thought. I am done with here. I've had enough of here. Get me out of here.

***

I miss my girlfriends. I miss connecting with my ladies in real life. I miss maskless faces. I miss their company and their smiles and looking at their shiny jewelry and talking about their gorgeous hair. I miss admiring them and asking for advice and giving advice and the thrilling incredulity that sometimes comes with feeling deeply understood. Waiting for them at a restaurant, deciding on a second glass of wine, feeling them all squished into a booth beside me. Their smells, their presence, their them-ness. Our conversations, the big talks and the little ones. Their outfits and their bags and their wrinkles and their laughter and their advice and our shorthand. I miss the women in my life so much that I have an actual physical ache.

Zoom was fine for a month or two or three, but now I can't even face Zooming with my friends. It feels too painful. I want to reach out and touch them and I can't. When the pandemic started last year, my friend and neighbor Stephanie came by one day just to say hi, from a distance. I ran down the stairs to see her, ripped open the front door and, confronted with her in the flesh before me, just burst into tears. My tears surprised me perhaps even more than they surprised her. The fact that she was in front of me and I couldn't go near her and touch her, pull her in for a hug, just gutted me. Once we all adjusted to the new normal, I was able to cope with that distance. I made my peace with it, I thought. But this week, that part of me is just hanging out again, all weepy and exposed, like a raw blister.

I want to run away to a faraway land and I want my girlfriends to come with me and while we're gone our husbands will take care of our children and they'll be just fine and we'll be back in a few months when we feel better, promise. 

***

The children were home from mid-December to mid-February. When they returned to school and Kita, I breathed a sigh of relief. Normalcy for them and for us, time to work again, time to be something other than a mother 25 hours a day. But the situation in Germany, in case you haven't heard, is becoming grotesque. Vaccinations lag, there is no testing strategy, and cases are skyrocketing. My mother and mother-in-law are vaccinated now, thank goodness, because they help us a lot. But Max and I are resigned to the fact that we are months and months away from our vaccinations, while the mutations are wreaking havoc. Bruno is our weakest link, poor little guy. I keep sending him to Kita, because I have assignments and deadlines, and every day I cross my fingers and hold my breath and hope against hope that he doesn't come home and infect us.

Keep him home, I think. Protect yourself. You have work, sure, but benevolent neglect never hurt anyone. And then I remember the endless weeks of them at home, at each other's throats all the time, his regressions, his brother's obsessive tendencies and how I felt like I was drowning all the time. He's better off at Kita.

***

All the while, meals are still getting made, morning, noon and night. One funny thing: I am having a quiet love affair with walnuts. I'll tell you more about that another time. In the who-gives-a-shit department, I feed my children broth made from bouillon cubes multiple nights a week and everyone is happy. In the marriage department, sometimes I get so angry about cooking one more meal that I make lunch only for myself and my husband has to go fend for himself, which he does without complaint. I have come this far in our journey together that I can report on this without judgment for myself.

Sometimes I get angry.

Sometimes I need to disappear.

Sometimes I simply refuse to make one more meal.

Yesterday, I made the discovery of the most delicious saag recipe made with Tuscan kale and tomatoes. I got it from my bible, East by Meera Sodha. In the cookbook, the saag is cooked with browned cubes of paneer, but I just wanted a big comforting pile of vegetables, so I left the paneer out and served the saag with hot cooked rice. It was so punchy and flavorful and nourishing that it felt like...a burst of sunshine in my body. An enveloping hug from someone wiser than myself. An escape. It used up precisely one bunch of perfect Tuscan kale. I made it just for us for lunch and there were no turned up noses or whines for something else.

One small good thing for which I could be grateful.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag
Adapted from East
Serves 2
Note: This recipe is easily doubled.
Print this recipe!

One bunch Tuscan kale (about 250 grams), ribs discarded, leaves roughly chopped
Rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chile, optional, finely chopped
Half a can of chopped tomatoes or about 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon brown rice syrup
Half a can of coconut milk

1. On a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan or pot with a lid and add the onions. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes over a medium flame,  until soft and sweet.

2. Add the ginger, garlic and chile, if using. Cook for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and brown rice syrup and stir well.

3. Add the kale to the pan and stir to wilt. Add the coconut milk, stir, then cover. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. If the saag seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. 

4. When the kale is tender, use an immersion blender to roughly blend the mixture. Serve as a side dish or with rice as a main course.