Thursday, January 27, 2011

Trying- too hard.

These are the stories of women who kept on trying harder…

They were both single, young professionals. He had just taken a job in her office soon after she started working there. Their connection was natural. He, a good looking guy seemingly tough but soft inside. She, a strong and sharp woman whose kindness and keen mind drew him in. They spent countless hours together, always just friends. He got another job that took more of his time, more of his energy, and some of his individuality away. Signs that he was too stressed, too overworked, too tense became to emerge. A nervous breakdown led to a sudden move across the country. She reached out relentlessly. He pushed away and always made her feel guilty. They hardly speak. She can't stop trying.

They had been friends forever. Two girls turned married women with children who have shared and experienced the sorrows and joys of growing up, learning to be women, learning to love. Both energetic personalities, with flaws, and fears and insecurities, they followed paths that sometimes seemed to contradict. Each made their own missteps - and with them, both became who they are now. Their bond grew stronger with each milestone shared, each silly argument, each heartbreak. Never in perfect balance, what one gave never seemed enough for the other, what she had seemed unfair, and cycles of blame began and carried on for years. Good times interrupted this routine and made it feel not as exasperating and relentless.

She was married, he, ten years her senior and single. She, a motivated young professional with a knack for wanting to save the world, one miserable person at a time. He, a highly non-commital, self-doubting man, reliving his youth, starting a new career. They met at a party. A charged friendship grew stronger for years. Their bond strengthened with each day, each phone call, each email, each text message sharing feelings, insecurities, victories, and defeats. They became each other’s support system in an addictive way. Emotions grew; words brought them closer, expectations of each other became more serious. Until one night, after one too many perfectly paired glasses of wine, she began questioning her life, their relationship, his feelings, the future. He shut down. They have not talked since. She'd try again.

With each argument, each low, each dismissive conversation, the same thought came to them- if I only try harder, if only I am more patient, more loving, more caring, more nurturing. If I only give more…more time, more space, more attention, more of me. If I tried harder, I could have made it better...If only I….There is no happy ending; no ending at all. Just trying... the name of not trying very hard at all and still being ecstatic- easy, simple, surprising- truffled Brussel sprout salad.

Truffled Brussel Sprout Salad

Ingredients: 1/2 pound brussel sprouts; 2 tablespoons of white truffle oil; 2 tablespoons to extra virgin olive oil; 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice; salt and pepper to taste; 4 ounces Pecorino Toscano cheese, shaved; chopped parsley for garnish.

Make the dressing by combining the oils, lemon juice, and salt. Shave brussel sprouts thin on a mandolin. Toss with the dressing. Top with the shaved cheese. Add salt and pepper as needed and garnish with parsley.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Giving Up, and Flageolets.

It was a transatlantic flight and four nights later in London with no hope of getting to Romania to see my grandparents in time for Christmas when I gave up. Three adults, one toddler, four suitcases, big jackets, lots of toys, no kitchen, many potty breaks, very little sleep, queues upon queues, hopes shattered over and over...our 4 hour layover in London turned into a day-by-day effort to leave the world's biggest airport as it got hit with a staggering 4 inches of snow in the middle of December. I did not want to come back to Denver. I did, however, asked to be rebooked back to Denver and I was ready to leave a costly, well- planned, highly anticipated European Christmas vacation behind. We were rebooked on a flight back home 2 days later.

Giving up seemed easier than fighting. I was done. I had poured myself into planning a well-thoughtout trip- every detail ironed out with the meticulosity and obsession of a type A lawyer mother. Then mother nature and a broken down British Empire that is way past its prime intervened. I wanted out. I wanted no more rejection by British Airways employees that manage to deliver it in the most polite way. I wanted control over my existence again.

Two more nights later and another stroke of British efficiency turned our defeat into a manic desperate drive to succeed. Our rebooked flight home from London to Denver was, in fact, booked as a flight from Denver to London. Yes, we were in London already. Well, at least it was confirmed with a nice accent and a smile. We were stuck, again. The potential of spending Christmas neither with family in Romania, nor at home in Denver put us over the edge.

Finally, after a severe nervous breakdown before airplane staff, we were on a flight to Bucharest through Athens (oddly) on Christmas eve. This one time, that booking mistake did not allow me to give up and return home defeated. It was the best gift I could ever give my ailing grandparents and the best one I could grant myself.

Many months ago, 10 to be more precise, I set out to post the best side-dish to the leg of lamb I cooked for Passover here. That dish was Flageolet Beans with Lamb Jus. I almost gave up on that idea- until today.

Flageolets with Lamb Jus and Garlic Confit, a Bouchon recipe

Ingredients: 2 cups flageolet beans, picked over for stones, soaked at room temperature in 8 cups of water for 24 hours; sachet (see below); 1 large onion, peeled and quartered; 1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise; 1 large carrot, peeled and halved; 8 tablespoons unsalted butter; 2 tablespoons minced shallots; 16 cloves Garlic Confit (recipe here); 1 tablespoon minced thyme; kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper; 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar; 3/4 cup Lamb Jus (just a click away right here).

Sachet: one 7 inch square piece of cheesecloth; 1 head of garlic, split horizontally in half; 1 bunch of thyme (1/4 ounce); 2 bay leaves; 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns. Place it all in the cheesecloth and tie with twine.

Place the sachet along with the onion, leek, carrot and drained flageolets in a pot and cover with 3-4 inches of water. Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally and add boiling water if it ever reduced lower than 2 inches above the beans.

Remove and discard the sachet and vegetables and cook the beans for another 1 and a half to 2 hours, or until very tender. Pour the beans into a container along with the liquid and let it cool completely. When ready to serve, drain the beans.

Add the butter to a large heavy pan on high heat. When the butter is a deep rich brown, remove from heat and stir in garlic confit, shallots, and thyme. Return to medium heat and add the beans and lamb jus.

Serve with lamb or by itself and don't let yourself give up.

Food Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Resolutions. Lentil Soup.

You have one- maybe more than one. You may be the person who mocks resolutions. You may say you don't have one. But you do, don't you? You don't admit it because you're above resolutions -- although it is almost not cool anymore not to have one.

Either way, you too want to eat better, visit that one city, lose weight...or call it be more fit. You too want to finally learn Spanish, to make it to that one restaurant, or museum, or show, to climb that mountain, preferably on your bike, to save more money (or any money). You too want to finish that stack of books accumulating on your night stand and finally read War and Peace. You too want that better job, that better house, that better mate. But you make no formal declaration.

Or maybe that's just me. I am that person- the non-committal resolution-less snob. Of course I want to fit in those jeans I bought in 1998 when I was still in my teens and childless. Of course I want to finish the three books I started last year (one actually started in December 2008). And yes, brushing up on my Italian, Spanish, and French sure would be nice. I probably won't -- for a variety of reasons. And the reality is that there are much more important things to me than your standard weight-loss--healthy-eating--language-learning resolution.

Those more important things center around exterminating stuff that stresses me out: the things on my to-do list that have been there for months or years; the things I dread because they are so complicated to finish; the things I avoided doing because I wasn't ready to go through the 7 steps it takes to make it happen; the things I just can't get the motivation to get done even though they are a constant weight on my shoulders...the toddler's room, her closet (or lack thereof), her baby book, that table that needs painted, the art that need professional framing, the curtain that needs the care of a seamstress...random other stuff- installing the printer, organizing and reorganizing our storage, and printing our wedding album...before our 8th anniversary...

The 2011 goal is to do more and dwell less; to be more prepared to deal with all the complications of some tasks and just get them done instead of moving them onto a new to-do list; to go through the steps with the bigger goal in mind no matter how little the progress of each step means; to just do it.

Something about as simple, rewarding, and complicated as the baby book is this lentil soup. From left to right in the picture are some of the things you need to get going on the soup- garlic confit, soffritto, veal stock, and chicken stock. I had these either in my fridge or freezer. If only I had all the things I needed to make the baby book match my vision for it too...

Lentil Soup, a Bouchon-inspired recipe

Ingredients: 4 ounces bacon cut in slices and cross hatched with the sharp tip of a knife; 1/2 cup drained soffritto; 2/3 cup Le Puy lentils, picked of stones and rinsed; 1/2 large onion, peeled; 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in 3 inch pieces; 1 large leek, white and light green parts, cut lengthwise in half and washes; sachet, made with 4 garlic cloves; 4 cupschicken stock; 4 cups veal stock.

Sachet: one 7 inch cheesecloth square; 8 thyme sprigs, 2 flat-leaf parsley sprigs; 2 bay leaves; 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns; 4 garlic cloves, skin on, smashed. Wrap all ingredients in the cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine.

Soffritto: 1 pound yellow onions, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch); 1 cup olive oil; kosher salt; 1 pound plum tomatoes, seeded and grated on a box grater (discard peel); 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; and about 5 hours close to the stove. Combine onions, oil, and a pinch of salt in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and keep it on low heat to maintain a gentle bubble. The onions will stew and then caramelize- this will take about 2 1/2 hours until the onions are deep golden brown and the oil is clear. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2- 2 1/2 hours or until the onions and tomatoes start to fry in the oil. Add another pinch of salt and the garlic and turn heat off. Drain oil before using.

Garnishes: 16 spring onions (white and light green parts only), trimmed and lightly blanched; 3 carrots, peeled, cut into 1 inch pieces, blanched in salted water until tender; 24 garlic confit cloves; 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley; 2 tablespoons minced chives.

Heat a heavy medium pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and let it render its fat for about 3 minutes. Add the soffritto, stir for one minutes and then add the lentils. Le Puy lentils are what you want to use- your specialty grocery store and Whole Foods probably have them.

Add the onion, carrot, leek. sachet, and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 25-35 minutes or until the lentils are tender. When cooked, remove the vegetables, the bacon, and the sachet.

This soup is actually better the next day when you should bring it to a simmer, add the garnishes, sprinkle the herbs and dig in. And keep those resolutions!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.