Thursday, March 28, 2013

Miso Maple Brussels Sprouts & Green Beans: Adventures in one-handed cooking

 

The night before I moved into my current apartment, I had a complete meltdown.

Not because of anything practical like being sad to leave my roommates (I wasn't), nor because I was worried about being able to afford rent and utilities on my own, nor even because I was concerned the movers would scuff my hardwood floors.

My meltdown was entirely centered around my stove.


I'd received a phone call from the gas company indicating that they hadn't been able to access my building that day and likely wouldn't be able to come back until the following week. Meaning, no hot water, no heat, and the kicker -- no functioning stove or oven for six days.

I completely lost it. Clutching the phone to my ear, I sobbed big, sloppy tears, throwing the type of tantrum that is usually only reserved for toddlers who drop their ice cream cones on the floor or contestants on "The Bachelor."

Ultimately, I was able to convince the gas company to come back the following day and everything worked its merry little way out like most things we fret about tend to do, but in the moment, I was the reason men think women are emotional.

Cooking is my life line.
Partially because of the end result (I get to eat food), but also because the process steadies and calms me like few things that don't involve alcohol and masochistic exercise can. After a stressful 11-hour work day, I crave the release of those studied motions.

Rinsing quinoa. Whisking together miso paste with rice vinegar and maple syrup. De-stemming Brussels sprouts.

The routine of it is as essential to my daily life as brushing my teeth or writing or drinking my morning gallon of green tea. Enough so that I'll regularly turn down invitations to go out to the new of-the-moment restaurant because I need that time.

To hear the sizzle of oil in a hot pan. To smell the aroma of roasted vegetables emanating from the oven. To feel the smooth handle of my Wusthof knife in my hand.

When I fractured my finger, one of the first things the woman who helped me said when I emerged from the E.R. with my mummified left hand, was "How are you going to cook?"

"I'll be fine," I responded, unconcerned.

And meant it.

Cooking is a non-negotiable to me, and broken finger or not, I needed it. I needed to be able to eat my quinoa and cook my oatmeal and roast the heck out of ten pounds of Brussels sprouts before they give way to asparagus and English peas.

I also needed to prove to myself that I could do it.

While the past three weeks haven't been easy, I've more or less adapted to a one-handed existence. I've discovered simple recipes that don't require complex or precise movements, much like I've found ways to put on a bra and type proficiently with only my right hand.

This recipe for miso maple Brussels sprouts and green beans with tofu has been one of my go-to's during this period of semi incapacity. Mostly because it only requires a baking sheet and the pot I use to prepare the requisite quinoa accompaniment, but also because it is simply delicious. The miso maple dressing seeps into the crevices of the halved Brussel sprouts, softening any lingering bitterness and coaxing out their underlying sweetness, while the crisp cubes of tofu fight back with welcome heft and texture.

It's the kind of dish that comforts without any unnecessary complications. The perfect fix for an emotional girl who lives by her stove.

And, for now, her right hand.


Miso Maple Brussels Sprouts and Green Beans with Tofu
Inspired by the Miso Maple Brussels Sprouts at Cafe Gratitude
Serves 2

15 Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed and halved
5 ounces extra-firm tofu, cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
15 green beans, sliced into 1-inch pieces (I've also used first of the season asparagus with great success)
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Sriracha, to taste
Salt & Pepper

Suggested Accompaniments: Quinoa, Brown Rice, Soba Noodles


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place baking sheet oven in oven while heating.

Carefully remove hot baking sheet from oven. Place tofu and Brussels sprouts on the sheet and drizzle with olive oil to lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread tofu and sprouts out, flipping the sprouts so the inside of each half is face down.

Roast for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven to stir and add the green beans. Continue roasting for another 15 minutes or until beans are tender and the sprouts and tofu are crisp, but not burned.

While the veggies are roasting, combine miso, vinegar, maple syrup, sesame oil, and a few drops of sriracha in a small bowl. Whisk till well-combined and completely smooth.

When all ingredients are sufficiently roasted to the aforementioned specifications, remove baking sheet from the oven. Toss hot veggies and tofu with the miso dressing and serve immediately, preferably over quinoa, but brown rice and soba noodles will also do quite well here.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trauma and Cookies


I know I'm falling.

The realization is repeating itself in my head, a chorus that seems to play for far longer than the actual amount of time it takes me to ricochet forward into the pavement.

I sit dazed for a moment before releasing an instinctual, "Ow!" into the early morning, pre-coffee silence of the residential block. Even though I can't identify a specific sensation of pain, I scream it again. And again.

You know,
for emphasis.

I'm still sitting there, struggling to move past the annoyance of the unplanned break in my run when I see a dark-haired woman rushing toward me from the house. It's only then that I realize there were people - two teenage girls - waiting in the car parked in the driveway right where I've so dramatically planted myself.

"Let me look at you," She says, helping me up and leading me in the direction of the front gate.

I want to say "I'm fine, it's nothing" - that I can just continue on my way and move forward with the day. Oatmeal for breakfast. A press release to distribute. Emails to send. The typical mundane details of a Wednesday.

And then I see it.

My finger.

I gasp as the woman simultaneously meets my gaze.

"Oh honey, I don't think I can clean this up," She exhales in a tone that suddenly changes the entire dynamic of the situation.

"Do you trust me?" She asks.

I nod before finding my voice.

"Yes."


Moments later I'm in the front seat of her car, a paper towel precariously wrapped around my left index finger. I'm calm as she asks me how old I am and jokes about the beauty and grace of my fall. I laugh too, finding the whole thing completely absurd.

"I tripped over nothing!" I chortle to my three-person audience, amused rather than concerned that my finger looks like it's been slammed into a steel door.

And I remain calm as we enter the local Urgent Care medical building and see it isn't open until 12 p.m. (because nobody has need for urgent care before noon). And my uncharacteristic nonchalance continues even as an internist in a nearby medical office exclaims, "Dear Lord!" at the sight of my finger before informing me that I have to go to the emergency room.

By this juncture the woman, Jacki, and I have become friends - a natural outcome from sustaining a serious injury in someone's driveway. We laugh at the seasoned internist's reaction as we cram back into the car, further complicating her daughters' trip to school.

"I didn't think it was that bad!" I quip, even as the adrenaline that was previously numbing my body starts to fade and the first stabs of pain start to set in.

Twenty minutes later I'm resting on a hospital bed in the E.R. A doctor, who is not George Clooney, is telling me that they are going to do an x-ray to see if the finger is broken, jam my arm with a tetanus shot, and then numb my finger to sew it - and my nail - back together.

You know, typical mundane Wednesday stuff.


And yet somehow, I'm still calm. I stare up at the TV screen playing The Today Show, watching, but not watching as I quietly process what is happening like I do trauma all the time. Like it's completely normal to be in the emergency room watching Kathie Lee while I wait for the anaesthesia to kick in so my fingernail can be sewn back on.

Totally.

Normal.

It isn't until later, long after my knight-in-shining denim drops me off at my apartment with my giant plastic bag filled with paperwork and extra bandages, that the enormity of all of it hits me.

Fractured. Hand specialist. Possible surgery. Antibiotics.


The words play over in my head as I realize that getting through the trauma itself was only the beginning. The hard part is the next six weeks of one-handed typing, cooking, putting on a bra... not going to Bar Method.

This is the point where I start to cry. And thank God for the kindness of a stranger that distracted me through what, alone, would have been a harrowing morning.

"You fell in front of the right house," she'd said.

So I did what's only natural in these types of totally commonplace situations: I baked her and her family oatmeal cookies - so easy to make they can be done with one hand tied up in gauze.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Romanesco with Crispy Sunchokes and Cilantro Pesto: Joy outside the comfort zone


"Do you know what romanesco is?"

I look up from the menu I've been pretending to read for the past five minutes, and peer over at the pleasant-faced woman sitting to my right. Starved for interaction and proud that I actually know the answer, I practically shout my response over the din of other diners.

"It's kind of like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower," I say, unfolding the dish towel-style napkin neatly in my lap as she nods her head, considering.

"It's really good," I continue, not ready to abandon a potential conversation with a human - a far superior alternative to rereading the menu for the tenth time since my arrival.

I'm sitting at the bar at Josef Centeno's Bäco Mercat, stealing a moment in the midst of an unseasonably warm February afternoon in Downtown LA. I hadn't planned to bother with a formal lunch during my day reporting for jury duty at a nearby courthouse, yet somehow I'd ended up convincing myself that I was worth a $25 sit down meal rather than a tired sandwich from the cafeteria scarfed down before my palate could register its tiredness.

"I can eat a sandwich any day," I'd justified.

I take a sip of my water, surveying the scene around me - the two girls sharing the "el pesco" crispy shrimp bäco at the end of the bar, the older couple (tourists?) divvying up caramelized cauliflower and a double mushroom coca flatbread, the suits clinking glasses at the table in the corner. The room is alive with a distinct kind of energy, a certain foodie swagger.

"Have you been here before?" I ask the woman as though she's a dark-haired bachelor that I'm ready to attack, praying mantis-style, rather than a kindred spirit with a mutual craving for bäcos.

A praying mantis attack had been the original plan, of course. The whole point behind the exercise of solo bar dining at a restaurant that doesn't cater to the field-greens-with-dressing-on-the-side crowd. It was also my main incentive for reporting for jury duty in the first place. I could have easily postponed to a few months later at a time that wouldn't require me to frantically send work emails from my phone all morning.

But I didn't.


Because I was going to meet.... the one.

It all made sense in my head - a head that prefers to believe that everything happens for a reason. Clearly that was why I was assigned to report to Clara Shortridge Foltz courthouse at precisely 7:45 a.m. that day. Clearly that was why I was going to be sequestered in a room of strangers for nine hours.

One of those strangers was obviously going to be my future husband.

Duh.

I'd purposely gotten up early to do my makeup and had spent way longer than usual to pick out my outfit - a sweater and skinny jeans with flats that said "put together" without looking like I'd, you know, purposely put it together.

When I'd arrived in the courthouse room where I'd be sitting for the remainder of the day, I'd selected a seat in an empty row, imagining that within five minutes Channing Tatum's doppelganger was going to be sitting down next to me. I had pulled out my paperback copy of Kitchen Confidential, knowing that he would have read it too, and we'd spend all day talking about tacos and Mozza and our favorite way to prepare kale from the farmers' market.

Instead, a large asthmatic woman winded from the walk down the hallway had plopped down on one side, and a girl who looked like she could be my doppelganger plopped down on the other. It had quickly become clear to me that the one was not in room 510.

Just as it's clear to me now that the one is not at the bar at Bäco Mercat.


Yet as I continue chatting with the friendly woman next to me who, as it turns out, is also reporting for jury duty, I no longer care. Nor do I care when I take that first blissful bite of my fava fritter bäco and realize that I could be eating a quinoa salad in front of my computer at the office right now.

Heading out into the sunshine to walk back to the courthouse after my leisurely lunch, it hits me that I'm secretly enjoying jury duty. Being Downtown. Reading a book for the first time since summer. Meeting people I never would have encountered in my normal existence in West Hollywood.

Finding joy outside my comfort zone.

And eating romanesco instead of cauliflower or broccoli.

Romanesco with Crispy Sunchokes and Cilantro Pesto
Serves 2-4

Notes; This recipe is a mash-up of different inspirations. The cauliflower with cilantro pesto at Josef Centeno's other restaurant, Bar Ama, a version of the dressing from Heidi Swanson's Yellow Split Peas, and a trip to Whole Foods that resulted in the purchase of romanesco and sunchokes before I even knew what I was to do with them. Somehow they all came together in this dish. It's a bit outside the comfort zone, but delightfully so - the crunch from the sunchoke chips, the crispy edges of the roasted romanesco ensconced with the vegetal bite of cilantro. Serve it in one of those quaint little bowls family-style that seem to only exist in restaurants, and enjoy it with the one or the ones you love.


1 head romanesco, cut into florets
3 sunchokes (approximately 1 lb), scrubbed well and sliced into thin pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons pepitas, toasted
1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves and stems, rinsed well
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and devained
2 tablespoons water
Sea salt
1 green onion, sliced into thin pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss romanesco with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt. Spread out on the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir so all sides brown evenly. Push to one side of the baking sheet.

Toss the sunchokes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and another generous pinch of sea salt, and spread into an even layer on the other side of the baking sheet next to the romanesco. Roast together for another 20 minutes, stirring the sunchokes once midway through for even browning.

While vegetables are roasting, combine cilantro, 2 tablespoons pepitas, parmesan, garlic, lemon, jalapeno, water, and remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Using an immersion blender or blender, puree the ingredients until smooth.

Remove romanesco and sunchokes from the oven. Toss with cilantro pesto until evenly coated. Garnish with green onion and remaining tablespoon of toasted pepitas.