What’s in your CSA: Orechiette with broccoli raabe

Last week, we got our first delivery of the year from Snow’s Bend Farm, where we have bought a farm share for years. The veggies are great, and we always get a wonderful variety — but it challenges my skills and time to use them up before the next week’s box arrives. Here’s an attempt at keeping track.

This week’s box: broccoli raabe, strawberries, spring onions, radishes, salad mix, rutabaga. We’ve eaten the strawberries, some of the radishes and some of the salad already. Time to tackle the big bunch of leafy broccoli raabe.

This one’s easy and quick, perfect for a meatless Monday. It’s a classic italian combo, and a technique you can use for any combo of greens & pasta.

Orechiette with broccoli raabe

  • Boil a big pot of water, add salt.
  • Heat a few glugs of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add about three cloves of minced garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. Add about a quarter teaspoon of red chili flakes.
  • Wash and roughly chop the broccoli raabe (I tried to keep the small broccoli heads whole and chop the greens and stems), then drop it in the pot for about a minute or two. Pull it from the pot, shake the water off, and drop it into the sauté pan. Cook until the stems are tender.
  • Add a bag of orechiette to the pot. When the pasta is al dente, add as much as you want (I usually end up using about half or 3/4 of a pound) to the sauté pan with the greens, along with a few splashes of pasta water. Add about a half cup of grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan. Simmer on medium low a minute or two until the sauce thickens.
  • Serve, topped with more cheese.

30

04 2013

Last night I watched “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and I was blown away.

By what? By so much. By the simple beauty of the film, the way it slowly built, the way it paid homage to the lovely simplicity of Jiro’s product itself — absolutely minimalist, absolutely perfect sushi, each piece served solo on a gleaming black board that’s immediately wiped clean once the sushi is eaten. I loved the music, the way the rhythm of the classical soundtrack built throughout, mirroring the crescendo that a meal at Jiro’s restaurant must be like.

But mostly I was fascinated by Jiro’s ideas about work and craft. Here’s the filmmaker, David Gelb, summing up in an interview:

“The main thing I learned from Jiro is the value of hard work, and improving your skills. You have to set aside your aspirations of fame and fortune, and just focus on the work. There is no such thing as overnight success. You have to just keep working day after day, and not be afraid to honestly judge yourself, and be willing to throw it all away and start over again just to do it slightly better. Talent is important, but without hard work it is meaningless. This philosophy applies to everything.”

The film shows how this man has dedicated his entire life — and, indeed, his sons’ lives, too — to this very narrow goal of making perfect sushi. It’s astonishing to watch, and its admirable. I’d love to incorporate much of what Gelb says above into my own work. I think we all like to think we’re honest with ourselves and that we work to our limits, but of course, we fall prey to office politics and pettiness and vanity.

But to be totally frank, there are some aspects of Jiro’s life that are very hard to swallow. I don’t know if it’s just me or more our American sensibility, but can you imagine getting up at exactly the same time every morning, eating the same thing, taking the same subway train — standing in the same spot on the platform — all in order to focus on work? It’s hard to swallow, and when you factor in the fact he has drawn his two children into doing the same thing (men who wanted to go to college but weren’t allowed to, the movie reveals, and who, in the case of the elder, is still working under his father at 50 despite his mastery of the art), it approaches the pathological.

Nonetheless, I am in awe of the ability to live that philosophy to fruition. And there is certainly much I can learn from it, whether in my own work, or elsewhere in my life. I felt inspired for my yoga practice, in particular, in hearing the description of how the restaurant’s apprentices are not allowed to touch food until they master, usually after many months, the skill of wringing out scalding hot towels with their bare hands. Then they can move on to cooking the egg, which they may practice for years before approaching fish. That discipline and patience to get the first things right — plus a genuine respect for the materials they are working with, in this case, the fish and the rice — are good reminders for my own practice.

07

01 2013

Day 2

And lo and behold, I’m back.

This one’s easy. I got rear-ended today. On the way home from picking up Alex, making a tricky merge I do nearly every day, only this day I decided to hold back because that red car looked impatient and the last time I tried to sneak in I got honked at. So I stop, and BAM!

“I thought it was a bump,” Alex said later.

It was a bump, but from a navy blue Honda Element, which took a nice bite out of my bumper. Fortunately — and this is where the thankfulness comes in — we were both OK. And the fellow driving said Honda Element was nice, and came over to check on us, and was horrified when he saw Alex in his carseat (thankful also he was in his carseat because I hadn’t put the booster back in the car this morning because I was off today and went to the carwash), and had insurance, and admitted right up front it was his fault, and said we didn’t need to call the police. And I was wondering if I was dumb to go along with it — I got all his info, but you never know — and then, maybe an hour later, Geico calls to tell me that he had phoned it in and I’ve got an appointment Monday at the body shop to get it looked at and fixed and a rental car will be there waiting for me.

Thankfully.

03

11 2012

A month of Thanksgiving

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.

That’s a quote from John Tierny’s interesting piece that ran last year in the New York Times. In it, he describes a study in which people who kept a gratitude journal for just two months were more optimistic, felt happier, and even worked out more often than those who didn’t.

So… think I’ll give it a shot. And since it’s here, I’ll have to be accountable. (Although since it’s here, no one will be seeing it!) There are only three weeks — three weeks — until Thanksgiving. I think I can hack 21 of these.

The only problem on Day 1 is what to narrow it down to. I’m grateful for so many things! We came from Alex’s soccer tonight, though, so this is the first thing to pop into my head: I’m grateful I get to watch him play. He does it with such lightness and joy — even on a night like tonight, when he was so tired he could barely focus between plays, he still attacked the ball and scored — it really is a pleasure to see. In fact, it’s a pleasure to see his body move in any number of ways! So: I’m grateful that this agile, healthy, little boy is in my life!

02

11 2012

OK, I’m back … maybe

This is nuts. It’s after midnight, I’m in a hotel room after being evicted from our house by an unfortunately placed oak, and my life is bordering on eight different kinds of chaos. In fact, things couldn’t be more different in many ways than when I was writing regularly back in Odessa. But I’ve been thinking for ages about coming back to this blog; in fact, I’ve tried several times and failed for a diversity of reasons, ranging from technical ineptitude to lack of motivation.

Part of the trouble is I’m not sure what it should be. Ordinary life seems so, well, ordinary. But there are things I’d like to share with everyone, and maybe this is the way to do it. So let’s give it a shot.

My favorite blogs tend to be about food, decor, funny stories and pretty pictures. I’m not much for funny stories at the moment — those may come — and I’m not cooking much in the Residence Inn. But I am now redecorating two rooms of our house, thanks to the above-mentioned tree, so maybe I can at least use this spot as a sounding board for ideas.

What else would you all like to see here?

12

04 2011

Testing testing 1-2-3

Hello, is anybody out there?

12

04 2011

Dos vidanya, Yulia

The Ukrainian Parliament voted to dump Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister today. It’s no surprise after she lost the presidential election last month. It’s also probably not the last we’ll see of her, either.

Tymoshenko is a fascinating character. I found that the longer we stayed in Ukraine, the more interested, even obsessed, I became with her. First of all, she’s a powerful, political woman in Ukraine, and even though many Ukrainians pooh-pooh that fact — I even heard one say they couldn’t understand why we made such a big deal over Hilary Clinton running for president — in that macho culture, it’s meaningful.

She’s also, in some ways, a cult of personality. There’s the famous blond braid, a Ukrainian emblem she adopted as her own (after being a brunette early in her career). There are the designer outfits, the ideal of so many Ukrainian women who I saw spend a fortune I couldn’t believe they had in tony boutiques. There’s the way she’s created a sort of cultural shorthand, like the campaign posters etched with images of traditional folk embroidery and bearing simple slogans like “They talk, she works.” No explanation necessary of who “ona” (she) is.

She’s apparently a charismatic speaker, a native Russian speaker who gives all her public addresses in near-perfect Ukrainian. She became the pro-Western, pro-democracy candidate, although some people say she’s in bed with business and got her money through tricky oligarch tactics. (The New York Times had an interesting profile of her.)

She certainly knows how to work modern technology, too. She’s got her own Web site, which had a post up already today about the Parliamentary vote of no confidence. She also has a blog, where she disses her political opponents and talks about the white tiger cub named after her:

“The zoo has received all the necessary means for keeping Tigryulya. The only thing that it complains about is that it has such an authoritative character that it chases everything around the cage. :-) That is exactly why she is different from everybody. “

03

03 2010

Happy Hannukah!

How pleasant a surprise is this? Even better, in eight days, Randy will be home.

(Thanks to Melissa Jacobowitz for the photo.)

12

12 2009

Paka

carriage

I’m leaving at dawn, but this certainly isn’t the end of the blog; it’s not even the end of posts about our time in Odessa, because I’ve got about four posts drafted and more to come.

But just to say goodbye, a glance at our second-to-last day. Alex and I did a tour of his favorite parks, with some shopping in between and his favorite lunch at his favorite cafeteria — mashed potatoes and a small Fanta. Then we treated ourselves to a carriage ride along Primorsky Boulevard, with all the lights shining.

Goodbye, Odessa. For now.

paka

06

12 2009

Rynok

sausage

One of the things I love best here is the open-air markets. These aren’t farmers’ markets, per se, although some of the sellers are selling their own products. But, really, you can get everything: meat in all sorts of shapes and sizes, much of it not refrigerated; chickens either whole or in bits, including big tubs of feet; lately rabbits whole and skinned; fresh-made sour cream and cottage cheese (tvarog) and salted cheese (bryndza); fish — the smoked fish selection alone is astounding — plus tins of caviar, squirming buckets of crayfish called rak and, occasionally in tubs placed outside the market, live carp.

ryby

raky

Some of the items are indisutably Slavic. There are mushrooms, fresh, dried and canned (look next to the big basket of berries, which are medicinal kalyny):

gruby

gruby

kalyny

There are more potatoes that you’ve ever seen before, often being sold straight out of trucks parked outside the market:

potato truck

There are grains and beans, different kinds of flour, various grinds of buckwheat, and things I can’t identify:

grain bags

And — of course! — a whole section devoted to pickles, with great heaps of sauerkraut shoppers stick their fingers into to taste as they cruise the crowded aisles, plus pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, mushrooms and, yes, whole small watermelons.

arbus

There are plenty of exotic items, too. On one trip we found feijoas, one of Randy’s favorites, and they turned out to be not only cheap but perfectly ripe and delicious. Although we think of the former USSR as all bleak semi-tundra, it’s a good reminder of the abundance of good things that come from the nearby Caucuses and, a bit farther away, Central Asia. Right now, two of the big specialty stands are persimmons and pomegranates (plus a stand that squeezes fresh pomegranate juice, YUM!),  which probably come in from Georgia or Armenia. And of course, all year round, there are the dried-fruit-and-nut men, who are as aggressive in hawking their wares as any seller I encountered in the Turkish bazaar.

fruit

There are non-food booths, too, and the specialty is astounding. Yesterday, I bought a couple of brooms from one of about five broom-makers tucked away in the corner of Privoz, the largest markets. There are shops with just toys or knitted goods or shoes or CDs. There are booths or stands that seem to just carry string and rope, or just plastic bags (which are taken very seriously here), or just cooking implements.

There are shops that just seem to carry buckets and mops:

tubthumping

Shops for bras:

bras

And plumbing:

loos

And fishing equipment:

rods

And pets. In fact, these pictures and the two above come from the market that specializes in hardware, outdoor gear, animals and animal supplies:

birds

bunnies

(Don’t worry, the bunnies were at the pet market, not the meat one.)

I’ve always loved open-air markets — there’s just something about the rush in the air, the buzz of picking out exactly what you want, and the opportunity to roam the aisles and compare. Then, when I started getting into food, I quickly learned that the closer you can get to the source, the better, and it’s hard to beat buying dill picked that morning in some babushka’s backyard or fish caught locally and brought to the market swimming in a tub.

But now that we’re preparing to leave, I realize there’s something more: the people. While customer service is generally a gaping black hole, people get it at the market. They call out to shoppers to offer a taste and a smile with their wares. They’re usually shocked to find an American shopping there, since few tourists stray outside the city center, and usually pleased to tell me what different foods are or which apples are sweetest.

Our time here has been so short that we’ve made just a few friends, but I do feel an odd bond with my regular market vendors. Oh, sure, Privoz is such a zoo that half the time I struggle to find the pickle section at all, much less remember which woman I bought those delicious eggplant from last week. But at the smaller market, Alex and I are enough of a novelty — and we’ve been routinely enough — that the woman with the good pears now has a big smile and a greeting for us, and Korean salad lady may present him with a little gift of carrot slaw. It’s really very sweet, and it’s going to be very hard to leave.

smile

03

12 2009