good reads | 03

Harpa Concert Hall Rekjavik

I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

On Maryland’s burgeoning oyster industry.

Some solid wine tips from a great sommelier.

I’ve enjoyed learning more about Olafur Eliasson since visiting Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall in October. This feature about the man and his work is totally fascinating.

Joseph Smith had 40 wives. Officially.

“Here’s how I approach this site, and have for a long time. I think of it as my practice.” Heidi Swanson reminds us why she’s our favourite food blogger.

The silence of Virginia Woolf.

Seeing Daniel Humm lecture to a room of 30 at George Brown College in 2010 remains one of the highlights of my food memory and what prompted my many travels to Eleven Madison Park. I would have loved to see him lecture at Harvard.

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

[lead image: Flight at Harpa Concert Hall, my own]

 

a formula for warm fall salads

photo (1)We love fall salads in our house. Salads are often considered a decidedly summer meal — crunchy, cold and refreshing. But it’s into the fall and winter months that I turn to salads as something plant-based and fortifying to fuel me through the cold and sunless days. The fall brings a time to play with colour, texture and the variety of hearty vegetables that become available with the cold-weather crops.

Assembling a warm salad of roasted romanesco and carrots with sauteed chard (pictured above) the other evening, I realized that we often use a simple formula for our cold-weather salads that can be replicated with any number of fall vegetables. Here’s my formula to make a wonderful warm salad for two.

Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees F and lining two large (13x9″) baking trays with parchment paper. 

Then gather your components:

1. A Wilted Green

For this salad, we used rainbow chard, but any hardy winter green will do — kale (lacinato, purple or curly), spinach, radicchio, mustard greens, rapini, collards or endive all work exceptionally well. I love something with a slightly bitter edge to contrast the sweetness of the other vegetables.

Wash a large bunch – don’t bother to spin dry as the residual water will help to steam the greens. Saute over medium heat with a good glug of olive oil, a large clove of thinly-sliced garlic, salt and pepper until the greens are supple. For greens with hardy stems, such as chard, de-stem and cook stems for a bit more time than the leaves.

This component will form the base of your salad.

2. A Roasted Crucifer

For this salad, we used a head of romanesco cauliflower, but any crucifer will do — broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or cabbage are solid choices.

Wash your crucifer(s) and dry well — drying is important to ensure you roast and don’t steam the vegetable in the oven. Break into tiny florets or pieces and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper until shiny. Turn out evenly onto a prepared baking tray and pop into a preheated oven, roasting until very tender and golden.

This component will add a savoury note and depth to your salad.

3. A Spiced Starchy Root

For this salad, we used carrots equaling about two cups uncooked, but any sweet/starchy root vegetable will do — parsnip, beet, sweet potato, celeriac, squash (butternut, delicata, kabocha or sugar pumpkin), turnip, rutabaga, kohlrabi or radishes.

Wash the root (and peel, if required). Cube or slice into about one-inch pieces and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper until shiny. I also add a dried spice to the root vegetables. You don’t want to aggressively spice every component of a warm salad or the flavours will muddle, but root vegetables accept and temper spices so well that I often incorporate spices at this stage. 

For this salad, I added 1 tsp of ground cumin to the oil-tossed carrots before baking. Other warming spices (e.g., cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg) or savoury spices (e.g., rosemary, thyme, sage, sumac) work well depending on the flavour profile you want to build. For every two cups of raw prepared vegetables, use about 1 tsp of dried spice.

Arrange in a single layer on your second prepared baking tray and pop into preheated oven, roasting until tender and golden. You will probably need to flip the vegetables once during roasting to ensure even cooking.

How to tell if your roasted root vegetables are ready? The best advice I’ve heard seems so obvious, but it ensures perfect roasting every time. Taste one! If the morsel isn’t creamy and practically melting on your tongue, it needs more time in the oven.

This component will add sweetness and a caramelized note to your salad. 

4. A Dressing

Dressing pulls a salad together into something harmonious — but for a cooked salad, dressing is not meant to coat the vegetables as with a raw salad. Since the vegetables have already been dressed in oil (and overdressed salad is the worst!), the dressing functions as another layer of flavour.

For this salad, I made a simple tahini-lemon-garlic-parsley dressing to drizzle over the salad. This dressing works for so many vegetable combinations and is stellar with Middle Eastern spices like cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon. I also love a bagna cauda style dressing of whizzed oil-packed anchovy, garlic and red wine vinegar to douse over veggies. You’ll want about 1/4 cup dressing to enhance this amount of vegetables.

This component adds another layer of flavour to your salad and ties the components together.

5. Optional Toppings

We kept this salad naked, but optional toppings can add a final element of creaminess or crunch. Keep in mind how sweet/savoury and textural your salad is without these items, and adjust accordingly. Choose one from a family below and use about 1/4 cup:

Nuts and seeds: pistachios, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, roasted chickpeas

Creamy element: goat cheese, blue cheese, feta, avocado, poached egg

Dried fruit: sliced apricot, dried cherries, cranberries, raisins

For this salad, the interplay of chard (savoury, silky), romanesco (crunchy), cumin carrots (sweet, deep) and tahini dressing (creamy, tangy) hit all the flavour and textural notes we wanted. But some chopped hazelnuts over top would have been lovely!

This component addresses any flavour and textural shortcomings in your salad.

The Formula

fall salad = wilted green + roasted crucifer + spiced root + dressing + optional topper

It’s that easy — because of the character of these vegetable families, pretty much any combination goes for a satiating and wholesome cold-weather salad.

Other Favourite Fall Salads

Roasted chickpea and carrots in harissa-lime dressing

Endive with pear, arugula and goat cheese

Winter chopped salad (my favourite!)

good reads | 02

tomato-and-pomegranate-salad-ottolenghi

I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

Talking to Yotam Ottolenghi about his latest cookbook.

A narrow slice of Iran’s deeper story.

First, they come off gluten.

Confidence might be the best gift experience can give you.

Rent the Runway’s secret dry-cleaning empire. 

I can’t fathom visiting Copenhagen without a trip to Noma.

The climate change solution no one will talk about.

Feeding 6000 people on the high seas.

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

[lead image: Ottolenghi’s Tomato and Pomegranate Salad from Plenty More]

 

retrospective | october

Because I enjoy a good retrospective — a look-back at the cooking, writing, events, dining, people and travel that comprised the month that was. Here’s the October 2014 edition.

Sichuan beef and celery

Cooking

Though we were in Toronto for less than half of the month, we spent much of that time in the kitchen easing into Fall cooking. We’ve been on a Moroccan food bender since we booked an escape to Marrakesh about a month back – and it continued this month with a generously spiced lentil stew that froze well for lunches.

We also stocked the freezer with several soups — a simple pumpkin-nutmeg, Austin’s carrot-sweet potato and smoky cauliflower chowder spiked with bacon. Austin tried his hand at Dr. Pepper and adobo braised pork (strange, but delicious) and I made an old favourite from my Greek repertoire – melitzanosalata, a smoky garlic-eggplant dip.

The best thing we cooked this month? Fuchia Dunlop’s Sichuan beef and celery. I didn’t ever think I’d be drooling over celery as a star ingredient in a dish, but I was happy to be proven wrong. We will make this dish again and again.

austin maria hands

Writing

In October 2014, I wrote three posts — demystifying meal planning, and musing over marriage as I talked about our first year as husband and wife and the decision to keep my last name:

Meal Planning for Two

We love this style of planning because it’s adaptable and uncomplicated for a family of two, and ensures we’re constantly trying new things in the kitchen. It doesn’t take a ton of time in our busy schedules, but ensures that two people who love to cook are spending time making tasty food, and that perishable goods don’t go to waste.

Marriage, one year

As someone who never assumed I would marry, let alone be married this early in my life, co-creating a marriage that is supportive, respectful and just totally fun is a gift. The sum is greater than its parts is cliche, but true. At Austin’s side I am a better version of myself — I am kinder, smarter, more inquisitive and easier. I am softer. I make my husband better, too, and this knowledge is empowering.

Reclaim

I will never (I hope) contend that it’s an inherently feminist choice to keep or take our husbands’ names. The act is replete with both obvious and unspoken truths, cultural and professional norms and historical weight, some that I understand and others that I don’t. I do understand that there’s too much nuance and depth to other women’s circumstances for me to judge or begrudge or applaud their choices.

IMG_7400

Events & Dining

Eating was surely October’s theme! Paris was decadent even by our standards, with meals enjoyed at Les Bouquinistes, Le Chateaubriand, Bistrot Paul Bert, Les Cocottes de Christian Constant and Septime, capped with a truly spectacular anniversary celebration at Alain Passard’s L’Arpege. (Reading that list feels ridiculous, but that’s two food lovers in Paris for you!)

Surprisingly, the very best meal of our trip came in Reykjavik, not Paris. I’ve long been a follower of Gunnar Karl Gíslason’s career, and when I learned we would be in town, immediately got to work securing reservations at his restaurant, Dill. As someone who knows perfect dining, this meal stood out over many in my life — if Michelin did Iceland, three stars would be in Dill’s lap. From the completely native-sourced menu (only the wines are imported), to the glowing, cozy dining room and open kitchen, to the personable and refined service, to the beautiful custom serviceware, and happy-groan-inducing food — Dill was special. We opted for the seven course progressive tasting with wine pairings, and each course blew away the previous.

We finally saw The Book of Mormon and it was everything we imagined — vulgar, culturally pointed and stomach-clenchingly hilarious.

I was in the thick of the semester for wine classes, with my first exam focused entirely on France — Alsace, the Loire Valley, Champagne, Burgundy, The Rhone and Bordeaux — turning our house into a tasting lab. Returning to school has been a demanding, exciting and fun experience. Beginning truly blind tasting has been such a powerful experience as I (surprisingly) appreciate my fairly well-trained palate that’s able to tease out and identify wines. It’s also been exciting to open a Bible-thick restaurant wine menu and have a better semblance of where to start and how to navigate it with confidence.

Grandpa Bob Austin

People

How hilarious it was to stand at Le Chateaubriand’s wine bar at 10 PM our last night in Paris, waiting for a table, to look up and see one of my lovely political colleagues a few heads over. Serendipity! We changed our pending table from two to three and had Iñaki Aizpitarte cook us whatever he pleased, with wines to match. Our last wine of the evening was a Nuits-Saint-Georges that we’re still talking about.

We capped off our vacation with an extra-long Thanksgiving weekend in Windsor. This entailed a feast at my Grandma and Grandpa’s on Sunday, and an equally big feast at Papou and Yia Yia’s on Monday. We stayed with my Grandparents, and I had such a blast listening in on Austin and Grandpa Bob being total hams together as they went for walks, watched All The Football and just hung out. It was great to catch up with my cousin who’s expecting her first baby this January, especially as I will be missing her shower, and to spend time with Max who removed himself from the law library to celebrate with us.

Thanksgiving weekend makes me so grateful for my big, loving, all encompassing family. I know few people who are blessed with back-to-back 20-person celebrations with blood who also are their best people in the world, and we have that. I love moving room to room, catching up with my sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, and always wishing it could have lasted a little longer when we depart.

Maria Jardins Luxembourg

Travel

We spent 10 days in Paris, France and Reykjavik, Iceland to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We strolled, ate and explored our way through both cities, only wishing we had another 10 days to tack on.

In Paris, we stayed at a little apartment in the Marais — a perfect central location to see the city by foot. Our first night in town brought Nuit Blanche — our favourite Toronto art festival — but this year in its home city! We may have been running on espresso fumes and sugar, but we set out to explore the corners of the city by foot. Seeing Paris illuminated and at its best was a magical way to first experience it together.

It’s hard to believe that we’ll soon be welcoming Christmas season (my favourite) and then packing our bags for Costa Rica to ring in the New Year!

Past Retrospectives

September 2014

August 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

good reads | 01

sarah-jessica-parker-met-gala-2014-oscar-de-la-renta-dress

I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

Reporting on Ebola, at last, with science.

In my next life, I would like to be Mimi Thorisson. 

They were not starstruck. They were not out for professional gain. They were sexually abused.

Sarah Jessica Parker remembers Oscar de la Renta.

Brittany Maynard’s hope for a better death.

Ideas grow and magic happens.

Reese Witherspoon is my kind of woman.

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

 

reclaim

changing my name

As a single woman, I was ambivalent about keeping or changing my last name. People would ask and I’d shrug. My answers were varied and tepid, in the realm of the hypothetical (as marriage was). “Maybe I will… it depends on what my future husband prefers… perhaps if we have kids.” Shoulders raised, unsure — in full disclosure, uncaring.

I know women, professionally and personally, on both sides of the name-change game. I have mentors who stridently held onto their names, appalled that my generation gives them away without resistance. These women deem keeping our names a breed of feminist crusade, something totally worth a fight — or at very least, a well formed opinion.

I know women who changed their names without pause, as it was a given, their part in building a family, and something they always knew they’d do. A friend gifted her last name to her husband for his birthday before their first child was born. Some were critical of her act, and unnecessarily, I think. I’ve learned, with time, that acts we consider indefensible on the surface often make much more sense when fully unpacked and considered within another’s unique circumstances.

I envied all these women, with their black and white decisions. My ambivalence felt shameful. As it goes, I’m not an ambivalent feminist.

When I became engaged to Austin, I expected my position would become clearer. If not, well, I make a living in communications! My key message would solidify and I’d have a neatly wrapped up sound bite in response to this now-frequent question from friends and family and colleagues.

Shortly after our engagement, I sat at my childhood kitchen island enjoying coffee and conversation, and my dad asked (benignly) if I would be changing my name. “We’re a bi-national couple,” I answered. “Sharing a name will be easier when we travel together. Probably… yes?” I shrugged. So much for my on-point key message.

Austin didn’t care one way or another what I did with my surname. And that’s part of what made the decision difficult. This choice would have nothing to do with my husband’s beliefs or preferences, only my own. The times we discussed the matter, he would always respond that I should do what was right for me — professionally, personally and emotionally — and he would be supportive.

So it was my time to consider, and consider with care.

I built my professional identity with my name. Pontikis has served me through diplomas, through job titles, through cities, through google searches. I carry my personal history and my family’s narrative with my name. I am the first of four daughters and no sons. I bear a surname granted to an ancestor who saved his village by feeding them mice — pontiki — through a wartime occupation (a story of its own, that my family were not always Pontikis). We daughters will bring our names with us or leave them in the past; we will carry our nominal lineage into the future or give it away.

The answer seemed obvious.

Austin and I married just over a year ago. We were pronounced at the altar as Mr. and Mrs. Zwick, a passage in the ceremony I co-wrote with my husband for the wedding I co-planned with my husband. We sat at a head table where my place card was, nominally, a woman I would learn to know.

I signed our Christmas cards with my new moniker but kept our dual-name address stamp. I registered her a gmail account but resisted renewing my passport as her. I smiled politely as relatives greeted me as the new Mrs. but kept my email signature intact at work. Here: my not-so-neat divide — I would have double the name and double the fun!

Over time, with each self-made contradiction, I figured out that my name was not just worth keeping. It was the only way, for me.

By becoming a wife, I reclaimed my name.

I will never (I hope) contend that it’s an inherently feminist choice to keep or take our husbands’ names. The act is replete with both obvious and unspoken truths, cultural and professional norms and historical weight, some that I understand and others that I don’t. I do understand that there’s too much nuance and depth to other women’s circumstances for me to judge or begrudge or applaud their choices.

The act of marriage forced me to deal with this nominal (and powerful) part of my identity outside the realm of the hypothetical, in ways I never anticipated. It became real. I considered with care.

I realize, a year later, that staying Maria Pontikis is one of the heaviest decisions I have made in my 28 years, masquerading as ambivalence. For many women, the decision is clear. But maybe you’re marrying soon, or you will one day, and you still don’t know. That’s okay! Take comfort that you don’t have to decide now, or tomorrow, or even by the day you say “I do.” Take comfort that uncertainty is normal. Take comfort that you do not love your husband more or less, you are no more or less a family, and you are no more or less a feminist — whatever your choice.

Maybe, like me, you’ll sit on your binomial fence for some time and feel your way around, until your choice is defensible — to you. That’s what matters.

(Photo credit: Sarah Kivell of Every Little Wonder Photography)

meal planning for two

meal-planning-twoAustin and I do meal planning by fits and starts. Sometimes, we’re all over it, plotting out our week’s cooking on a regular basis. Sometimes, especially in the summer months, we’re more ad hoc about what we cook, inspired by what looks good at market or in our CSA basket. But we share the belief that we eat better and are more satisfied when we take (a little bit of) time to meal plan.

As we sat on the couch this morning plotting our week’s meals, I realized that this exercise we’ve developed through trial and error over time would be helpful to share. Meal planning only seems onerous. It takes us about 30 minutes each week and a trip to the grocer. Our approach is pretty straightforward and hands-off, guided by a few core principles.

First Principles of Meal Planning

  1. Above all else, choose meals that use up any and all perishable items already in the fridge.
  2. Choose recipes with ingredients that can be repurposed into other recipes that week (e.g., if we’re buying tarragon, we’ll try to pick a couple recipes that use this herb).
  3. Don’t overplan. We reliably cook dinner 4-5 times per week. The other 2-3 nights, we’re in class, eating out or heating up some simple leftovers or something from the freezer. Knowing this, we typically plan 4 dinners, 1 soup to have for lunch/freeze and one ad hoc night with ingredients that won’t spoil if we don’t get to the meal.
  4. Designate one “cooking afternoon”. Depending on our schedule, this is reserved for Saturday or Sunday, and takes about 2-3 hours. We typically prepare a batch of soup and one other dish to have on hand, and make that night’s dinner at the same time. This is also where we’d do any canning, preserving or prep for staples like soup stock or beans to keep in the freezer.

Our Meal Planning Process

Inventory

Once a week (usually on Saturday morning as we sip coffee and wake up), we take inventory of items we need to use up in the fridge.

What this looks like in practice: I sit in the kitchen with my laptop, and Austin combs through the fridge calling out items and quantities (e.g., 3 small eggplant, half a bunch of parsley, a head of cauliflower) and I type these into a blank document. He also quickly sifts through the freezer, noting different cuts of meat we have on hand to defrost, if needed for a recipe. We also use this time to quickly reorganize and clean the fridge, tossing out any food that’s turned.

This week’s inventory (higher than usual because we had a double-CSA delivery after returning from vacation):

  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • 7 baby purple eggplant
  • 6 small Anaheim peppers (sweet)
  • 2 lbs fresh peas in shell
  • 1 large white acorn squash
  • 1/2 bunch each parsley, cilantro
  • Sweet potatoes, onions, carrots (not immediately perishable)

Research

We take our coffee and list, and sit side-by-side on the couch with our laptops. Under our list of ingredients to use up, I make a shopping list, then list the days of the week. I note days when we won’t be cooking because of other obligations, or lunches out with colleagues/friends where we don’t need to pack lunch.

From there, we pull up our go-to recipe sources. Austin often finds ideas on Reddit and Epicurious that he’ll keep open in tabs or email me through the week. I immediately go to my “kitchen” Pinterest boards (starting with savoury, soups and meals we’ve made) and scroll through for ideas. I have a rule that I only pin meals that we would actually cook (I always click through and read a recipe before pinning it), which greatly minimizes “aspirational pinning” of complicated recipes I would never in a million years attempt on an average weeknight.

We typically find a couple recipes from these sources. From there, we review our list to note specific ingredients still waiting for recipes. For example, for the head of cauliflower, I’ll type “cauliflower” into Pinterest search, restricting it to recipes I’ve pinned. Usually, we find something right away, but if not, I’ll broaden the search to all users and we’ll choose a good option. We’ll do the same on Epicurious, which aggregates the recipe archives of Bon Appetit and Gourmet.

Lastly, we pop open our wedding cookbook and other favourites (among them: Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and Gwenyth Paltrow’s It’s all Good) in case an old standby piques our interest.

Shopping List

With our 4-5 chosen recipes open in tabs, we sift through the ingredients lists and jot down needed ingredients on a shopping list. As a rule, we try to choose recipes that only require us to buy a couple supplementary items, to minimize bringing more into the kitchen. If a recipe is too complicated or requires too many ingredients not in our fridge/pantry, we often nix it and find something else.

Much like when we take inventory of the fridge, making a shopping list often involves me calling out ingredients to Austin as he checks our pantry and freezer to see if they’re on hand (e.g., rice vinegar? jalapeno peppers? ground beef? basmati rice?). I note anything we need, separating the list into produce/dairy case/pantry for an easy sweep of the store.

Here’s this week’s shopping list:

Pantry

  • Sichuan pepper paste
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Oil-packed anchovies

Dairy Case

  • Sheep’s feta
  • Kalamata olives
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Parmesan cheese

Produce

  • Scallions
  • Lemons
  • Ginger
  • Garlic

You’ll note it’s a pretty contained list — just 11 items — because we’re working with many ingredients we already have on hand.

Sample Meal Plan

So, what does this meal plan look like in practice? Here’s what we’re cooking this week to give you a sense:

Saturday 

Sichuanese Chopped Celery with Beef with basmati rice

Chicken Stock (for tomorrow’s soup)

Sunday (cooking afternoon)

Cauliflower Chowder: for lunches/to freeze

Pasta with Slow Cooked Cauliflower and Anchovy: for lunches

Spicy Dr. Pepper Shredded Pork and Herbed Peas

Monday

Mezes night: Melitzanosalata with feta, olives and pita bread

Tuesday

Lasagne Stuffed Squash

Wednesday

Maria class/Austin teaching: leftovers/freezer dinner

Thursday

Ad hoc night: steak with roasted sweet potatoes

Friday

Dinner out with friends

For lunches, we’ll rotate between dinner leftovers, cauliflower chowder and pasta, which are kept in the fridge/freezer pre-portioned to grab as we leave for work in the morning.

Keeping Track

While the meal plan is never perfectly implemented (we’ll swap days, or get a craving for pizza, or just want to cook something else!) it gets us about 80% of the way to tasty meals from our kitchen. If a new dish we make is a success, it gets tacked to our shared meals we’ve made Pinterest board to recall for another time.

I’ve researched and read about many approaches to meal planning. We love this style of planning because it’s adaptable and uncomplicated for a family of two, and ensures we’re constantly trying new things in the kitchen. It doesn’t take a ton of time in our busy schedules, but ensures that two people who love to cook are spending time making tasty food, and that perishable goods don’t go to waste.

If you’re in a rut, or often ordering takeout after a day at work, I’d challenge you to spend just a month using our meal planning philosophy as a guide and starting point. It’s faster and healthier than takeout, can be adapted to any skill level, and in our experience, makes the kitchen an even more fun place to spend time together.