7/14/14

Video Attempt: Green Minestrone

I think the beauty of this soup is that you don't have to be too precise with amounts and you can use whichever vegetables you have on hand. I think mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash, or fresh corn would be great in here as well (or as substitutions).

Green Minestrone adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 6

8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
8 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 handful (or more) of green grape tomatoes, sliced into halves (optional)
4 small carrots, peeled, thinly sliced lengthwise on a mandoline
1 cup (or more) fresh shelled peas or fava beans (from about 1 lb. pods)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups dried pasta (use whichever shape you prefer)
3 cups (lightly packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 shallot, finely chopped
Shaved Parmesan (for serving)

Heat 4 Tbsp. oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Cook leek, fennel, yellow onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add broth; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, 10–15 minutes.

Add tomatoes (if using), carrots, and peas and simmer until carrots are just tender, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain and add pasta to soup.

While pasta is cooking, process parsley and remaining 4 Tbsp. oil in a food processor to a coarse paste, transfer to a small bowl, and mix in shallot. Season pesto with salt and pepper. Serve soup topped with pesto and Parmesan.
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7/3/14

Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn (and Babies?)

Before Teddy came along, I was rather happy at home all by myself. I'd write in the mornings, read through cookbooks in the afternoon, grocery shop for the ingredients I needed, call my mom or brother while cooking, and then spend the rest of the evening with Matt. Sure, I'd occasionally meet up with friends for a hike or yoga class or lunch, but for the most part, I was on my own and very OK with that. And for the first few months of Teddy's life, except for the visits from my out of town family members, I continued on this pleasantly quiet loner path.

But then suddenly, about two months into motherhood, I started to feel pretty lonely (which I understand is a little ironic given that I was no longer alone).
Enter Mommune, my weekly hangout with other new moms! Its roots begin with my friend Rachel, who had a baby boy last October and who works from home one day a week. Then, my pal, who runs this really cool card company had a little boy a couple of months after that. Teddy was born in January. Then, my friend Peggy had a little boy two months later, which was quickly followed up just three weeks later by Bon Appétempt-regular, Jodi, who, yes, also had a boy. So, in short, between moms working from home and moms still on maternity leave, the five of us and our five sons have managed to get together pretty consistently for the past two months, and honestly, it's kind of been a lifesaver for me.

Not only is it fun to meet up with friends in the middle of the week and talk shop on the ins and outs of baby-rearing, but it's also a great place to grab lunch. Last week it was my turn to host. It was also the week The Year in Food's book came out, so of course, I would be cooking something from that. There are so many things I want to make from this book, but for Mommune, which meets around lunchtime, this grain salad seemed perfect. First of all, I love a grain-based salad. Secondly, I loved the idea of making a dressing out of a bunch of cilantro, parsley, and a jalapeño (or two). And lastly, I knew I could do almost everything ahead of time so that in the morning, while Teddy squealed and rolled around on the floor of his room, all I had left to do was cook the rice in my beloved rice cooker and slice some nectarines.

The salad was delicious—perfect for a Los Angeles summer afternoon—as was everything my fellow moms brought to accompany it, from the vichyssoise with croutons Carolyn brought, to the guacamole Rachel brought (recipe via her all-star chef brother) to the Burmese semolina cake Jodi brought. Peggy stopped by with both of her kids that week so was off the hook for also bringing food, which is another reason I love Mommune: we're flexible! In fact, I'm typing up my love for Mommune while missing today's session because Teddy decided to take an ill-timed extra long nap.
On that note, have a great long weekend, friends! And if you have a potluck to attend, I highly recommend bringing this gorgeous salad and/or buying this cookbook for more ideas! xoxo
Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn super slightly adapted from Kimberley Hasselbrink's Vibrant Food
serves 4 to 6

for the green rice:
1 cup brown basmati rice
1 2/3 cups water, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons more for sauce
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 small jalapeño, seeded and chopped
zest and juice of 1 small lime
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt

for the grilled corn:
2 small ears fresh corn, husks and silk removed
extra-virgin olive oil
salt
1/2 lime

2 tablespoons or more of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 medium-ripe nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced lengthwise
3/4 cup crumbled soft goat cheese

In a saucepan, combine the rice and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Let the rice stand for a few minutes, then fluff. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Preheat the broiler.

To grill the corn, lightly oil both ears of corn and place in a small baking dish. Broil about 6 inches from the heat source, turning every few minutes, until golden and blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside until cool enough handle. Using a large sharp knife, cut the kernels from the cob to yield about 1 cup. If you have more than this, save it for another use. Transfer the kernels to bowl and toss with pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime. Set aside.

Transfer the rice to large bowl. In a blender, combine the cilantro, parsley, jalapeño, lime zest and juice, olive oil, pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon water. Blend until smooth. Add up to 2 more tablespoons of water to thin the sauce if it's too thick. Spoon the mixture over the rice, scraping any remaining sauce out of the blender with a spatula, and mix until the rice is evenly coated. 

To finish, add the corn and additional parsley and cilantro to the rice. Toss to combine. Transfer the rice to a serving platter. Sprinkle the nectarines and cheese over the rice in even layers. Garnish with additional parsley and cilantro. Best served immediately. Can be made up to a day in advance; bring to room temperature before serving. 
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6/22/14

Video Attempt: Rice-Cooker Blueberry Pancake


Rice-Cooker Blueberry Pancake
makes 1 giant pancake*

*We have a really large rice cooker. If you have a more sensibly-sized one, you probably want to halve this recipe.

2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
4 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
2 large eggs
A heaping cup of blueberries
the zest of one lemon
maple syrup and more butter, to serve

In the bowl of your rice cooker, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Give it a mix. Add in the milk, butter, and eggs. Stir until just moistened. Add the blueberries and lemon zest and give it one last gentle stir to combine.

Place the bowl in the rice cooker, close the lid, and press the "cook" button. After a few minutes our rice cooker switched to the "keep warm" setting, but our pancake was nowhere close to being done. Everything we read online told us to keep it in there for 45 minutes. We did, and then some. After an hour and a half, ours finally looked cooked. And voila, it was!

Serve with a bit of butter and maple syrup.
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6/11/14

Blackberry Ice Cream, Kind of

While I tend to stick to topics surrounding food, Teddy, and dancing, recently, I’ve found my thoughts treading in slightly different waters. In other words, is it cool if I speak my mind on some issues for a few moments? Yeah? OK, great. Here I go:

One of the problems with people like me is that it takes having a newborn to discover—and fully feel the impact of—the fact that though yes, some employers may opt to offer generous paid maternity and (not quite so generous) paternity leave, they don’t have to. In terms of parental leave, unlike most developed countries, all that is required by law here in the U.S., via the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, is 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Apparently, the intention of this bill was to assist in "balanc[ing] the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.” But let me ask you this? How the heck would this really help out a young family if one of its members just had a baby and was hoping to have the support, at least for a week or two, of the other member? To be fair, I should note that some states have expanded on the aforementioned FMLA. For example, in California, PFL (Paid Family Leave) provides up to six weeks of benefits for individuals who must take time off “to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, or registered domestic partner, or to bond with a new child.” Though pay attention to the word "benefits" there; this means that PFL will pay you only a portion (about 55%) of what you’re used to making.

Full family disclosure: Matt’s company offered him one week of paid paternity leave. And yes, he could have taken more time because of FMLA and could have received a portion of his salary for up to six weeks thanks to California’s PFL, but because of the nature of Matt’s job, the fact that we really rely on his full salary (as my writing and our videos don’t quite pay enough yet to sustain us—yet being the key word there, amiright?), as well as the fact that my mother was planning to visit and help that second week of Teddy’s life, Matt and I decided he should go back to work that week after Teddy was born.

Now, I realize that this is a complicated issue with all sorts of implications, but as a new mother who lives thousands of miles from family, not only could I have really used Matt’s help with our newborn son, but this situation also made it so that Matt was constantly playing catch up on all of the various tricks of how to soothe and care for our little boy, which I undoubtedly picked up in between the hours of 8am to 7pm while he was at work.

I know, I know. You’re like, “Amelia, when do you talk about blackberry ice cream?” Hang in there. I’ll get to it! (Maybe.)
The second problem with people like me is that I rarely take my political frustrations any further than signing the occasional petition, arguing with my mom, emailing Barbara Boxer, or studying up on California’s props right before an election (and voting).

Now, I bring all of this up because I have a new cause; and one that though I can’t do much about, I can’t seem to do nothing about either.
Perhaps you’ve read an article or two about the current battle between the book publisher, Hachette, and the online super-store, Amazon? Well, for those of you who haven’t, I will try to sum it up as briefly as possible. (I will also link to this interview with Sherman Alexie on The Colbert Report, which sums it up quite well and quite hilariously.) In short, the two companies are in a dispute over contract negotiations and caught in the crossfire are 5000 of Hachette’s books, which Amazon—a company responsible for 40-50% of all book sales as well as a company known for its speedy service—currently says they will ship in two to five weeks if customers order them. At the same time, they’re offering “similar titles” available immediately and at their standard discounted price. Most devastatingly for Hachette authors whose books are coming out this summer, you cannot pre-order their books. As stated by Sherman Alexie in the aforementioned interview, pre-publicity and pre-sales are everything, especially for a first-time author; they help determine how many copies booksellers order from the publisher, whether said books reach various bestseller lists in their first weekend, which, in turn, drive sales, etc.

Point being, as a first-time author whose book is being published by Hachette—albeit not until February of next year—I’m very invested in this dispute. And I would like to think that even if I didn’t have a book coming out, that as a book lover and someone who values an ecosystem where artists and content creators are not squeezed or bullied by the companies that sell the things they work so hard to create, I would still be invested.

And so, perhaps you’re wondering (if you’re still reading, that is) what am I going to do about it?

For starters, I hope writing this post counts as something. (C’mon, I had to do fact-checking and read articles without skimming them!) But mostly, for me, it comes down to being happy to spend a little more for books (and other things) at places I can feel good about supporting. (By the way, Amazon is giving similar advice to those people not willing to wait the two to five weeks for a book to ship. In a statement to their customers, they wrote: "We regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.")

Amazon says that it’s all about getting the best price for you, their beloved customer, but there's another price to be paid for getting things cheap; especially when Amazon wants to drive down cost while also taking a bigger cut of the profits. Publishers, authors, artists, vendors, and their employees all suffer in that scenario and that’s something I just can’t buy into.

p.s. This blackberry ice cream was delicious.

p.p.s. Here are a couple of places where you might consider spending your hard-earned dough.
My mom shows her distaste for Amazon's negotiating tactics. Just kidding! This shot was taken after I brought up the idea of making basil ice cream. She  wasn't into it.
Blackberry, on the other hand...
Blackberry Ice Cream slightly adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

For the blackberry purée:
2 half-pint baskets blackberries (2 cups)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, as needed

For the base:
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large egg yolks

Cook the berries:
Combine the berries with the sugar, using 1/4 cup if they are very sweet and 1/2 cup if less so, in a small nonreactive saucepan and stir well. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the berries are soft and the liquid they release has reduced somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then transfer the berries and their juice to a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth. Strain half of the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much purée as possible. Discard the solids. Add the unstrained purée to the same bowl and stir once to combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate.

Make the base:
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in half of the sugar (1/4 cup). Set aside.

In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, remaining sugar (1/4 cup), and the salt. Put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.

Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.

Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Turn off the heat.

Set the pan into an ice-water bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Remove the pan from the ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least two hours or overnight.

Whisk the blackberry purée into the chilled base.

Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you'll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away, or for a firmer ice cream, transfer to the chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours.
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6/1/14

Kiawah, South Carolina

Just last summer, we met up with my family in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and though I was pregnant at the time, Matt and I were still, for all intents and purposes, the kids at the dinner table, or at the beach, or, well, anywhere we were hanging out with my mom, stepdad, and Grandma. 

But so much can happen in one year. 
Last Saturday, we woke up at 4:30am EDT, got dressed, packed up our rental car, said goodbye to Matt's parents, and then, as quickly and smoothly as possible, grabbed Teddy from his dark, white-noise-filled room, tucked him into his car seat, and drove the 45 minutes to the Charleston airport. From there, we took our now-awake son with us on a short flight to Charlotte and then a long one from Charlotte to Los Angeles. At LAX, I purchased myself some Alleve and said goodbye to Matt and Teddy who were off to baggage claim. My job was to catch the shuttle to the airport hotel where we'd parked the car in one of their longterm lots, find the car (not always easy to do), and then drive back to the airport to collect my husband, infant, and luggage. By the time we opened the door to the house (after swinging by the store to pick up some fresh food as all I'd had to eat that day was one Kind bar and one Lärabar and several Alleve), it was 2:30pm PDT. 

Which I bring up all to say: we are no longer the kids at the table! We are grown-ups. We are in charge of another person, a person we can take on a plane with absolutely zero documentation that even proves he belongs to us. (The night before we left for South Carolina, Matt turned to me and said: "This is a stupid question but he doesn't need an ID or anything, does he?" I looked at him blank faced for a solid minute before responding, "I don't think so?")
But the headache that is modern-day travel was so worth it. Teddy got to meet his aunts, uncles and three cousins; and Matt and I got lots of rest, relaxation, and crab cakes.
And when we got home, as it was Matt's birthday last weekend, we got cake. This year, he wanted vanilla cake with vanilla icing, so I just followed the funfetti recipe from last year, leaving out the sprinkles. 
Hope you all had a great weekend! My mom is in town visiting again and hopefully we can get her to shoot another video with us. Fingers crossed.
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