Inkling of Spring

This morning I woke up to several glorious things.

Light streaming in the window, which indicated that it actually was morning.

And a small sound from the room one door down, a little voice chirping “Mama, mama.”

An amazing sound when you’ve spent the last 1.5 years week being awoken at all sorts of ungodly hours to crying, whining or just plain screaming. Gonna be honest here friends, night weaning is a bitch.

Even when your kid is the most adorable thing ever.

And then I started dreaming of it being warm enough to picnic. A semi-decent nights rest after weeks and weeks of nights where you only get, on average, 5 hours of sleep a night can make you think crazy thoughts.

I really love a good spring picnic, and pretty much can’t wait for spring days that are sunny enough to enjoy from outside the windows and doors of my house. Maybe bundled up enjoyment, but enjoyment nonetheless.

Until then I’ve been making loaves and loaves of bread to be eaten with too much butter (which is a misnomer because there is no such thing as too much butter) and also salad.

Salads help me pretend that Spring is already here, especially ones like this one.

Take some veggies just barely painted with color, like fennel and endive:

Add several fruits that signal how near the end of winter is:

Next, a modest splash of color:

And pretty soon you have a salad that will, if need be, feed 8 adults and 2 kids and still leave leftovers. Leftovers that hold up admirably well for a salad, slightly dressed even. Or you could just make 1/2. Or eat more. It’s salad after all–no limits.

You could serve it next to little fried beet chips, like I did, if it seems too healthy. Fried food is a good antidote for “too healthy.”

But, no matter what you serve it alongside (We also ate this, for a big family dinner on Friday.) it will be delicious and give you a little taste of spring.

Shaved Fennel and Watermelon Radish Salad with Meyer Lemons
makes about 10 side servings, or 4 larger lunch servings

1 bulb fennel, fronds removed and reserved
3 meyer lemons
4-5 large watermelon radishes
2 small heads endive
2 Tbsp olive oil, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Line up all the endive leaves and chop into 3/4″ bite-sized pieces. Spread out on a large platter and cover with a damp paper towel while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Supreme the lemons, and chop the supremes into little bitty bite sized pieces, about the size of your pinky nail. Set these pieces aside in a small bowl. Do not wipe off your cutting surface, you want the fennel to sit in the lemon juice that’s left on the cutting board.

Remove any tough or bruised parts from the outside of the fennel and slice very thin using a mandoline. Pour any extra juice that has collected in the bottom of the lemon bowl over the fennel and toss just lightly. Add the shavings in one big heaping layer on top of the endive. From the reserved fronds, take the just best looking two or three and chop them finely, saving to use as a garnish. Cover again with the damp paper towels.

Peel any tough spots from the outside of the radishes. If you can’t find watermelon that’s ok. You can use any radish here. Slice them as thin as you like using the mandoline. I didn’t slice mine as thin as they could go because I wanted them to stay pretty crunchy. Add them as the next layer in the salad.

For the last layer, add the lemon bites over the top. Follow with the chopped fennel fronds. Next pour the olive oil over the whole thing slowly working over the whole salad. If you feel like you need more, by all means add it. I deliberately left this a very lightly dressed salad. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, and call it done!

If you, like me, are preparing this salad ahead of time for an evening dinner, leave it in the fridge without the oil, salt, and pepper, covered with the same damp paper towels you used throughout.

Something Fresh

Thursday was a hard day in computer land if you live in my house and your name is Venessa. My computer completely wacked out and had to be restored from a back-up that wasn’t quite complete.  Joe had to retrieve about 200 pictures from my camera card from over the last 3 weeks. I’m really really glad he knows a thing or two about computers. More than this guy at least.

I also had a lot of trouble getting somethings right in a post I was doing. It took me all afternoon to get it written and put pictures in, and when it finally came time to check the final draft I realized thatmuch of the formatting was way way off. This has been happening more and more over at blogspot and while I have been happy there, I decided it was just time for a change. There’s been too much frustration in my life lately, and that was one area I had some control over. Hopefully the transition goes smoothly.

That post was a recipe for a hearty muffin full of fiber and protein, and since I’m getting a fresh start in this fresh year and I already have been posting a little bit about eating light, I thought I would post this quick soup. It’s bright and rich at the same time. It’s incredibly flavorful and also incredibly easy on the waistline. Maybe your waist will look like this bulb of fennel’s if you eat it a lot.

Fennel (one of my favorite foods for like the past, oh, 2 or 3 years) and bright green apples go in, alongside a hit of fresh thyme and some other minor players. I didn’t really have a recipe but I imagine it would be good with pretty much whatever proportions you like, as long as you remember to balance it out in the end with the lemon juice to brighten it up. At least as bright as this friend’s plumage

I took it on a picnic to the zoo on Friday, in some borrowed thermoses. It was so nice to have a little cup of warmth after tromping around and making all the animal sounds out in the cold of an early January day. Topped with a little dollop of greek yogurt and a few more thyme leaves, it really hit the spot.

(I didn’t have anything witty to say about soup in cups. Sorry.)

Fennel and Apple Soup with Thyme

  • 2 bulbs fennel, fronds removed
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 green apple
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 large sprig fresh thyme or about 1 tsp dried, plus more for garnish
  • 2-3 cups veggie stock
  • 1 small winter squash, flesh only (I used a Delicata)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • plain greek yogurt to garnish, optional

Roughly chop the fennel, celery, carrots, apple and squash. I didn’t peel anything except the squash, just chop it. Put it all in a pot and cover with stock. Add the thyme and a dash of salt, cover and let simmer. Once everything is pretty soft, after about 15-20 minutes, turn off the heat and puree completely either in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender. If it’s too thick you can add a little more stock, or if you like a thicker soup bring it back to a boil and then simmer on low for a little bit until it’s a consistency you like. Add about half the lemon juice and then taste, adding more salt or more lemon juice if you like.

Ladle into bowls and garnish each with about 1 Tbsp greek yogurt or so, and a sprinkling of thyme.

Same-Old-Same-Old

I am fond of making it up as I go along. Normally, I feel that this is a superb way to live my life, and I wouldn’t change it if you paid me to. Lately though, I’ve been having to live a little less spontaneously. I guess this is what you get when you are hauling an 8 month old around with you everywhere you go.

I miss it a bit–the spontaneity. In addition to that, I’ve been in a rut in the kitchen. I hate being in a rut when it comes to cooking and eating. Sometimes I find a new recipe or ingredient that I get a crush on for a minute or two and I eat it a lot, but then I move on or change it up. My husband and step-sons could probably eat the same 7-10 meals for the rest of their natural lives and be totally thrilled about it. I am not like that at all. To help with all of this, recently I’ve done two things: One, I joined a cookbook club and two, I started actually using all of the cookbooks I already owned. Even when I don’t actually make a recipe from a new cookbook, just looking through them on a more regular basis inspires me to try new things.

So, I compromise with myself. I plan a menu once a week because it makes my life so much easier to shop only once or maybe twice a week. I use as many new recipes as I figure I’ll  have time for. I usually have at least one or two old favorites. This keeps me from feeling stagnant, and while it isn’t exactly spontaneous, it’s not totally same-old-same-old either.

Last week I made quesadillas with black beans and avocado–pretty simple. What really made dinner special though was the salad that I made to go with it. I got some really good looking cilantro and a gorgeous red cabbage. And a mango. I sliced up the cabbage very thin on the mandolin, and I slivered the mango and added it and a big handful of roughly chopped cilantro to the bowl. Then, I squeezed a lemon over the whole thing and added just a sprinkle of salt. You could just as easily use a lime, if that’s what you have on hand. I tossed it up and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours, until dinner ( I often prep things for dinner while Lilli, my 8 month old daughter, takes her afternoon nap). It was fantastic. Crisp and refreshing and sweet and tangy all at once, the perfect counterpoint to the hot sauce I drenched the quesadillas in. Add a tequila and tonic and you are all set…



Mango Red Cabbage Slaw
serves 2-3 as a side

  • 1/4 small to medium red cabbage, sliced very thin
  • 1 just ripe mango, peeled and sliced into thin wedges lengthwise
  • juice of 1 lemon (roll it on the counter first to get as much juice as possible)
  • chopped cilantro–as little or as much as you like. 
  • pinch sea salt, to taste

Combine everything in a bowl and let marinate in the fridge for an hour or so. Keeps well for a day.