The Middle

Wait a sec, where did July go? July is the cream in the center of the summer cookie, and it seems I’ve licked it clean. It’s been a tasty month, not to worry. July started with a few days up in York Harbor, Maine, at Sylvie’s in-laws, where we spent the mornings tag-teaming crossword puzzles, eating cherries, and vying for the best reading seats on the wraparound porch.

Mid-month, some friends went out of town, and we jumped at the chance to enjoy their CSA share for that week. I’m used to my share coming in a box, but theirs, through Red Fire Farms, is set up is like a mini-farmer’s market: you pick your own veggies to match the allotment for the week. The produce was really exquisite, and, as a Western Mass native, I was delighted to learn their farms are located in Granby and Montague. I advised the two women running the stand to make sure to get to Montague this summer, even if to take an afternoon off for lunch and a visit to The Book Mill.

So we started the month out of town and with an empty fridge and ended up with a bounty. Pounds of carrots filled my crispers, and beets and their thick green leaves poked out of my middle shelves whenever I opened the door. My cupboard barely shut with the piles of potatoes July was offering us. I panicked for just a second, not knowing what to do with all the vegetables. But then it dawned on me that I had all the ingredients for my very favorite beet salad, a salad, I realized with some embarrassment, that I had never shared on this blog.

Beet vinaigrette, along with Salad Olivier, is a Russian salad I enjoyed at my best friend’s house growing up. (Sure, she’s originally from Latvia, but this seems to be a catch-all Baltic dish. At some point I’ll get Salad Olivier up on the blog. Love that salad. Love it, love it.) The recipe I use, and the one my mom uses, is from Spice and Spirit cookbook, that purple cookbook with the perfect hamentashen dough recipe. The authors note that this salad is often served “as a side dish at a Kiddush” which makes sense because it’s a cold dish that can be made ahead or assembled from ingredients cooked before Shabbos.

Sure, boiling potatoes and cooking beets takes some time, but I prepped all the vegetables for this salad over a few days. Although the recipe calls for boiling the beets, potatoes and carrots all in one pot, a few days ago I grabbed the beets that were in the fridge, cut off the greens (and set them aside for some nice sautés with garlic, maybe some ginger) gave them a rinse, and placed them into a lasagna pan (something that had sides). I filled the pan with about a half inch of water, covered and sealed the entire pan with foil, and tossed it all in a 400 degree heated oven for an hour or so. I knew they were done when a fork easily slid in and out of them. When the beets were cooled down, I tossed them into a bowl, covered them, and put them in the fridge. For the past few days, I’ve grabbed a beet or two, run them under cold water which allowed their skin to easily slip away, and added them to salads and dishes. Couldn’t be easier.

Last night I peeled some potatoes and carrots and set them in a large pot of water that I brought to a boil as I sat and watched the Olympics in the other room. Again, couldn’t be easier. So even though the beets, carrots and potatoes had to be cooked beforehand, the actual assembling of this salad took just a minute or two. I have a friend whose Mom is Hungarian, and I’ve noticed that she tends to keep boiled potatoes on-hand in the fridge at all times. It really does make putting together a meal a snap.

Classic Beet Vinaigrette

The amount here is massive and can feed a dozen. Feel free to halve, or even quarter, this recipe. I also tend to always have red onion on-hand, so I usually sub that in for the scallions, making this a pretty dandy pantry recipe for the summer or winter.

Ingredients

8 medium potatoes

3 carrots

6 medium beets

4 scallions (or a quarter of a red onion)

3 sour pickles (I actually prefer dill in this recipe)

Dressing

1 Tablespoon salt

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice (I enjoy balsamic in this recipe)

¼ cup oil

¼ tsp. pepper

Directions

Scrub potatoes, carrots, and beets and place in a 4-quart pot. Cover vegetables with water and cook until soft. Potatoes and carrots will become tender before the beets. Remove them and continue to cook beets.

Let vegetables cool, and peel; cut potatoes and beets into cubes. Peel and dice carrots, scallions and pickles and then mix all vegetables together in a large mixing bowl.

Mix together dressing ingredients, add to vegetables and toss well. Potatoes will take on red appearance. Chill and serve.

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Weekend Edition

Weekday breakfasts are usually solo affairs around here. I’m not a coffee drinker, so while Rich starts his day by grinding his beans and setting up his French press, I’m usually out the door with breakfast (sometimes leftovers from dinner, lately it’s been yogurt) in my sack to be eaten at my desk while checking emails. Weekends, however, are a different matter altogether.

We have a ritual for our Sundays mornings: Rich is the official breakfast maker at our house. Sometimes he’ll pile a platter high with French toast made with challah leftover from Shabbat, sometimes there are waffles, and sometimes, like this morning, there are pancakes. We eat our breakfast at the dining room table while listening to Will Shortz’s Sunday Puzzle on NPR’s Weekend Edition. When I stop and think about it, I realize we’ve listened to hundreds of puzzles together. We’ve never sent in a postcard to play on the air, but we always listen for the piano’s notes announcing the segment, and shout, “Puzzle!” when we do hear it.

This morning I made the executive decision to add some of the blueberries from this week’s CSA box to our pancakes.  We had buttermilk in the house from making this cobbler, although we changed out the apricots, cherries and ginger for nectarines, blackberries and sage. The pancakes were something else. The heat of the griddle softened the berries into puddles of warm jam. Each bite was special.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Adapted, ever so slightly, from The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook, by Sharon Kramis & Julie Kramis Hearne

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

½ cup whole milk

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted, plush additional melted butter for serving

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more if needed

¼ cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, milk, and melted butter until well blended. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk just until combined. Fold in the berries.

Heat a 10-or 12-inch cast iron skillet or cast iron griddle over medium heat. Add 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil to the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet, ¼ cup at a time, forming small pancakes. When bubbles start to form, turn the pancakes over and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Continue until all the batter is used up, adding more vegetable oil as necessary. Serve with melted butter and warm maple syrup.

One Year Later

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a year since Brian’s fire. I’m relieved to report that everyone is doing well. Except for some scars on Brian’s neck where they did the skin grafting, you’d have no idea that he’d been on fire. As for his friend, Eric aka Jellyboy the Clown, he toured the world this year, performing in Europe and Asia. And, in recognition for his bravery and heroism, Captain James F. Hay of Ladder Company 163 was awarded the M. J. Delehanty Medal by the New York City Fire Department this past spring.

Still, the anniversary (or “burniversary” as Rich has taken to calling it) brings me back to the days after the fire. We heard the news on July 3 and spent July 4 driving down to New York to the hospital. There are little things about visiting people on a burn unit you don’t know about until you get there. Before going into any rooms, you have to cover yourself, head to toe, in hospital gowns and cap, to prevent infection. If you want to leave the room and go to the bathroom, you have to remove the gown and cap, put them into the laundry, and put on a new gown and cap before reentering the room.

Even though the burn unit preferred to keep the visitors down to one or two at a time, there were some afternoons where I’d find myself dragging chairs in from up and down the hallway to provide seats to the piles of people who wanted to see Brian. Someone even asked one of the annoyed nurses if Brian was the most popular person they’d ever had on the unit. She thought about it for a second, then responded that the Shah had had more guests.

There were a few quiet moments when I would sit in a chair by Brian’s bedside, reading, and he’d get to rest in between the afternoon rush of visitors. I found this recipe in the July 11, 2011, issue of New York Magazine. I had my fingers pinched and was about to rip it out but stopped myself. “Brian?” I whispered quietly. “Yes, darling?” he answered, with his eyes still closed. “There’s this recipe in this magazine. Do you think it’d be OK if I clipped it? I mean, I don’t want to take it if…” Brian laughed: “Well, since most of the fire was in the kitchen, oh, and because I burned down my entire apartment, I don’t think I’ll be doing any cooking anytime soon.”

The recipe calls for Panisse Lettuce, which it describes as “frilly lime-green” and “an oak-leaf and a butterhead…with a tender but sturdy-enough leaves and a bittersweet flavor that fairly cries out for a zingy dressing like the pistachio vinaigrette Greenmarket guru Dan Kluger has concocted over at ABC Kitchen.” I know, pistachio vinaigrette? How could I leave that behind?

When I went to the farmer’s market this afternoon, I was told panisse lettuce wouldn’t be available for another week or two. She suggested I substitute a deer head lettuce for something a little different, which I gladly did. It cost me a dollar. I don’t own Champagne vinegar and just used red wine. It was still very delicious. The radishes I had on hand are the ones that came in last week’s CSA; I don’t think you need to go out of your way to find French breakfast ones. And I always keep the garlicky lemon green olives from Whole Foods in my fridge, but if you come across the Sevillano or Manzanilla olives, then definitely use those.

Dan Kluger’s Panisse Lettuce with Pistachio Vinaigrette

Ingredients

For the dressing:

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons raw pistachios

½ Thai chile, seeded and minced

4 teaspoons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

2 heads panisse lettuce (or Boston, or Bibb, or Butter)

2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons oregano, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons mint, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons tarragon, finely chopped

8 French breakfast radishes, thinly sliced into rounds

½ cup Sevillano or Manzanilla olives, pitted and chopped

Directions

For the dressing: In a small pot, heat olive oil and pistachios together over a low flame until warm. Place warm pistachios in food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Immediately pour pistachio mixture into bowl with Thai chile, and let sit for ten minutes. Add lemon juice, Champagnes vinegar, kosher salt and ground pepper.

For the salad: Honestly, I find lettuce from the farmer’s market incredibly gritty, so I’m not going to give you the directions provided about slicing the heads in half. Clean the lettuce leaves by soaking them in a large bowl of cold water. Change the water if you think the lettuce still looks a little gritty. Remove the leaves from the bowl and spin dry in a salad spinner. Rip the leaves and place them on a platter. Sprinkle with the radish and olives. Spoon vinaigrette on top of platter. Make sure to bring the dressing to the table so people may apply more if they really like it.