The Anticipation


The anticipation of a good meal is occasionally the only redeeming quality of a day. Especially on days that are routine, ordinary, or perhaps slightly boring, food can bring us to life. It brings color to my cheeks, so I've been told.

I recently had one of these days, while reporting for jury duty in downtown Los Angeles.

After an early morning, hour-long drive on side streets, and spending two and a half hours trying to read in the waiting room without falling asleep, my group was sent off on a 90 minute lunch break.

I knew where I was headed. Three blocks from the courthouse is Grand Central Market, a convergence of LA food stalls set in a 100-year-old building. I thought about it most of the morning, wondering what I might get. Last year when I found myself in the same situation, I ate at DTLA Cheese two days in a row, devouring a simple salad. With a few new eateries to choose from, I found a seat at the counter of Bombo, Mark Peel's new seafood outpost, and ordered a bowl of mussels with pappardelle.

In the end, the day let me think, let me read, let me write, let me walk. I attempted to see jury duty as a metaphor for impending childbirth, because nothing about the experience that day was in my control, like which group my name would or would not be called in, the random computer generator, or if I was lucky enough to miss the courtroom all together. 

Thankfully, I got off easy. The two civil cases we had been brought in for settled out of court, and by the late afternoon, we all cheered when we were told our service was complete. 

Two months later, I'm officially on maternity leave, which right now is probably the best feeling in the entire world. Now, instead of anticipating a good meal, I'm anticipating the arrival of our little one in just a couple of weeks. Not that there won't be any good food to be had, mind you.

Over Labor Day Weekend we drove to Underwood Family Farms for what's become an annual Roma tomato pilgrimage. Instead of picking our own boxes, we called ahead and ordered 50 pounds of tomatoes. I spent the next three days making fresh sauce and freezing it for when I'll need it most.

There was no recipe, really. I turned on the heat of my largest Le Crueset pot. Next, I halved, chopped, and slid tomatoes into the pot until it was nearly filled to the brim. Salt. A soft boil. A lower heat, and about 30 minutes, give or take. I simply cooked the sauce until it was done.

All the sauce was strained through a food mill on the coarsest blade, then poured into glass mason jars and sealed. In between, I made some of my favorite tomato things, like this tart from David Lebovitz, Molly's pomodori al forno, and fresh tomato sauce laced with parmesan and basil.

And of course, there is Pablo Neruda's Ode to Tomatoes, a poem I read every year around this time.

The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets...

Now there's nothing left to do but eat tomatoes, and wait, wait, wait. 

Poetry in a Bowl of Grains

Quinoa Salad with Homemade Harissa | Eat This Poem

I've been wondering, lately, how it is that we each manage to get through the day, cooking for ourselves and often our partners and children.

How do we manage? How do we plan (or not), and what do we eat?

Maybe it's a strange series of questions to ask, but I find that most of us are so involved (rightly so) in our own routines and habits, we rarely discuss what occurs in each other's kitchens. And I'm not talking about a pre-scheduled dinner party, either.

I'm interested in Monday morning and Thursday night. What you come up with when you realize you're missing an ingredient, or you didn't plan what to make for breakfast on Saturday, or you've been inundated with zucchini from the garden and are trying to make it interesting again and again. Or you're just flat out hungry but don't feel like making anything. (My answer for this always tends to be an omelette with Parmesan cheese, any greens I can find, and crushed red pepper flakes.)

So that's what I want to talk about today.

As for my own routine, I meal plan most weeks, a habit I took to years ago, right around  the time when I started working full-time. It just makes life easier knowing I've already thought ahead and designated a meal for dinner. It keeps me calm. It gives me something to look forward to. Sometimes meals are switched around, of course, or an impromptu dinner out ensues, but generally you can find me at home Monday through Friday standing at the stove soon after getting home from work.

The weekends are a bit more leisurely. While I do tend to plan those as well (except for days I just want to roam the market and see what happens, which happens a lot this time of year), I like leaving room for a dessert I've bookmarked or something more involved that I don't have time for mid-week. (homemade croissants, anyone?) Also, there is almost always some version of pancake or waffle at the breakfast table. It's borderline obsessive. 

Recently, I made stew. I don't typically associate June with stew, but it turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to an unusual bout of gloomy Los Angeles weather. It rained, actually. Really rained. Our state is always in desperate need of water, we just don't tend to receive much of it during the spring. So here I am in the middle of the year, making stew. And harissa, I should note.

Quinoa Salad with Homemade Harissa | Eat This Poem
Quinoa Salad with Homemade Harissa | Eat This Poem

Have I told you about Amy Chaplin's new cookbook yet? It just won a James Beard award (!!), and has reignited my interest in grain soaking. I dare you to close her book without feeling inspired. Somehow, Amy makes the basic act of soaking rice and quinoa a meditative moment, and you can't help but feel enormously healthy and on top of things when you remember to pull out your bowl and pour water over the lentils before you go to sleep at night.

There's something deeply poetic about the whole thing, especially when you consider rhythms of poetry. We find similar rhythms in our kitchens, too. We move from the sink to the refrigerator seamlessly, opening the door like a line break, taking out the pitcher of water. Next line. And so on.

I've been making my way through this cookbook slowly. First I read it cover to cover and kept track of the recipes I wanted to cook (along with their page numbers) on post-it notes. The inside front cover is now a pale shade of yellow, almost like homemade mayonnaise when you make it with yolks. 

Lately I've started prepping a few things on Sunday to help make cooking faster during the week. Amy's harissa is the perfect example of make-ahead condiments, destined for a robust quinoa salad. 

Quinoa salads have had their run, haven't they? First, no one really knew what quinoa was. Then no one knew how to cook it properly. There have been debates about how to make it fluffy, and whether or not our healthy grain habit it making matters worse for the people of Peru.

There were lots of bland recipes, too, but quinoa doesn't have to be bland. This is one of those wow! yum! pow! salads that hits you over the head thanks to a few spices like cayenne and coriander. It's probably the simplest homemade harissa you can make, but it makes an entrance. Roast some summer vegetables, saute rainbow chard in garlic oil, and toss it all together with a sprinkle of cheese. I can't say enough good things. 

And as for your own kitchen routines, I'd love to hear about them. They're deeply personal yet wildly relatable, aren't they? 

Homemade Harissa from Amy Chaplin | Eat This Poem


Adapted slightly from At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen

1 tablespoon cumin seeds (I used ground)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons ground paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 small garlic clove, grated
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Warm a small skillet over medium heat and add the whole spices. Toast seeds, stirring occasionally, until fragrant (about two minutes). Transfer to an electric spice or coffee grinder and grind until fine; pour into a bowl. Add the paprika, cayenne, garlic, salt, oil, and lemon juice. Stir until smooth. Store in a sealed glass container for up to two months in the refrigerator. 

I didn't follow her quinoa salad recipe very closely since I had a variety of other ingredients on hand. But the general method goes something like this.

Soak 1 cup of quinoa overnight. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add the drained and rinsed quinoa. Cover, lower the heat a bit, and simmer for about 12 minutes. (You'll find with Amy's method that for soaked quinoa, you only need a 1:1 ratio instead of 2:1 for un-soaked grains.)

I roasted zucchini and cherry tomatoes, and while those were in the oven, sautéed half a bunch of rainbow chard with plenty of garlic. (Amy's recipe also calls for red peppers, which would be fantastic.) Then I dumped in the fresh herbs (parsley and basil), crumbled in feta, and spooned harissa over everything. 

The Recipes We Remember + Penne for Erin

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem

Today is Erin's virtual baby shower! A few of us who know and love her decided to shower her with easy vegetarian meals to celebrate the upcoming birth of her baby boy.

It's a strange world we live in sometimes, and it's lucky when those of us who get to know each other online become real life friends, too. Relationships are hard work, wherever they are, and since most of us don't live close by, we supplement with blog reading, email writing, and brief meals whenever we can. I shared one of these meals with Erin last October when she was visiting LA to pick up a very special rocking chair, and I'm so grateful we could catch up in person! 

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem

In thinking about an easy vegetarian recipe to share, my mind reached way, way back. 

Recently, I've gone on somewhat of a pilgrimage in search of old recipes, the ones I relied on in the early days of learning how to cook. It's very nostalgic now to flip through old meal planning journals, or cookbooks from Giada de Laurentiis, reminding me how uncertain I was at the beginning, and what little strength my intuition had. But I'm grateful for the recipes during this time, because they helped me learn, and helped me trust.

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem
Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem

The first year after college, Andrew and I spent a lot of time cooking together. As it happened, my roommate managed a restaurant which kept her gone most evenings, so when Andrew and I both finished work, we would watch Everyday Italian and decide which recipe looked best. Then we'd walk over to Albertson's, buy the ingredients, and follow the recipe.

One recipe I clung to early on was a penne with beef and arugula. What I still love about this dish is the sauce, a combination of tart mustard and balsamic vinegar that makes your mouth pucker a little bit, softened by the salty bite of cheese, peppery greens, and bursting tomatoes. These days I omit the beef (although it's a really wonderful addition when you're feeling like adding it), and add toasted pine nuts for another layer of texture and buttery flavor. Although this isn't a recipe I make as frequently as I used to, it's one I still haven't grown out of, and I like having a few of these recipes around, because it helps me fondly remember where my food journey began.

Early recipes offer the same comfort as poems. Over the course of our lives we cook more recipes and read more poems, but there are always markers that defined something in our lives, like when I read "The Piano" by D.H. Lawrence in 10th grade and started writing poetry, or discovered Elizabeth Bishop in college. It's nice to reflect, to see a bit of your journey in the food you eat and the words you read, offering fuel for what might be around the next turn. 

Every now and again we all need some welcome reflection as cooks, as friends, as parents. And so to Erin, I wish you well on this new journey! 

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem
Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula | Eat This Poem


Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly cracked pepper
5-6 large basil leaves, julienned
1 pound penne
2 cups lightly packed arugula
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Whisk the mustard and balsamic vinegar together, then slowly whisk in the oil. Add the salt, a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper, and basil. Stir to combine.

Cook penne until al dente, about 7-8 minutes, in a large pot of salted water. Drain, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid. Pour the sauce over the penne, and add a splash of the cooking water. Stir to combine, then add the arugula, cherry tomatoes, and a small handful of grated cheese. Stir gently, and the heat from the pasta will help wilt the arugula and melt the cheese.

To serve, top bowls with additional cheese and a sprinkle of pine nuts.