Archive for August 2006

It Must Be Summer Watermelon Salad

I know I’ve posted this recipe before, but now I’ve taken such a pretty picture of the salad, I had to bring it up to the front of the queue. Plus, apparently now watermelon is so hip, even the folks at Design Within Reach are talking about it.

This is from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer. People might look at it and, mistaking the pale pink watermelon for lame supermarket tomatoes, think it’s a bad Greek salad, so just assure them that it is something delicious and new. They’ll be so pleased.

1 small red onion
2-4 limes, depending on their juiciness
3 1/2 pounds watermelon
9 oz feta cheese
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
3-4 T olive oil
4 oz pitted black olives
black pepper to taste

Peel and halve the red onion and cut into very fine half moons. Put in a small bowl to steep with the lime juice. Two limes should do it, unless they seem dry; you be the judge.

Remove the rind and seeds from the watermelon and cut into large bite-sized, triangular chunks. Cut the feta into similar sized pieces and put them both in a large, shallow bowl. Tear off the sprigs of parsley so that it’s used like a salad leaf, rather than garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.

Now add the onions (with the now oniony lime juice), olive oil, and olives, and toss gently so as not to break up the watermelon and feta too much. Add a nice grinding of black pepper and taste to see whether the dressing needs more lime. Keep at room temperature till serving.

What Can You Do?

Mary, over at Mom Writes, blogged about three things she can do that make her life easier and more pleasant, and her funny, useful list has got me thinking about how my expectations have shifted since having kids. There was a time when a productive day ended with half a dozen pages of my dissertation written (I was a slow writer), or a couple hundred pages of a novel read, or maybe twenty or thirty student essays graded. Those days generally included something homemade for dinner, a clean apartment, and time for a conversation with a friend.

My days don’t end like that anymore.

When I was first pregnant, slowing down and frustrated at how little energy (mental and physical) I had, Tony would remind me that my to-do list needed to shrink down to one thing: Grow the Baby. I was working full time until 3 days before Ben was born, but tried to keep in mind that the main thing, despite my colleagues’ and students’ demands, was getting through the day with the baby still happily inside. After he was born, my to-do list didn’t change much, of course. Despite how much else I might have wanted to do, I tried to focus on that one big check box: Grow the Baby. And he grew, and now he’s been joined by a little brother, and during the first few postpartum months last summer, I was generally pretty satisfied by days that ended with both boys still alive.

Now, however, they are big strong taking-care-of-themselves guys of one and four. Betweeen preschool and a babysitter, I can rely on 3 whole hours without them each week. I have ambitions, well, maybe just aspirations… a column to write, a book to edit. And some days, between those three hours and other random hours achieved when Eli’s naptime and Ben’s traintime magically overlap, by staying up till midnight even though Eli wakes up at 6am, by checking email on my way to the dinner table and reading essay submissions while brushing my teeth, I get some real work done. And some other days, instead of getting anything done, I just get slapped upside the head (metaphorically, mostly) for trying.

So I’m trying to focus again on the little things. It’s not quite Grow the Baby anymore, but the balance is still tipped in favor of the little guys for now, and that’s ok.

Meanwhile, making a list for Mary’s blog was a good reminder of three little things I can do that add some ease and some pleasure to this life: I can bake a loaf of bread without breaking a sweat; I can change Eli’s diaper without taking his legs out of his footie pajamas; and I can pick up just about anything with my toes.

What can you do?


Despite being the daughter and granddaughter of gardeners–farmers, practically–I’ve never had a vegetable garden until now. And I love it. Now, don’t talk to me about your tomatoes; I live in foggy San Francisco. Even during this uncharacteristically warm summer, we’re not getting red tomatoes around here. But the chard and the green beans, they are thriving, and we are watching one single artichoke develop, a tightly closed purple fist in its forest of prickly green leaves. We’re eating out of the garden every night. And it feels like magic.

Mama at the Movies

My new column is up now at Literary Mama. Go unplug your cell phone charger and then check it out!

Ricotta Redux

Alright, as I reported last time I blogged about ricotta (do you suppose anybody has ever used that exact phrase before? ah, probably…), there are other ricotta recipes to try, and now I’ve tried another (from Suzanne Dunaway’s No Need to Knead), and it’s the one. Seriously, make this cheese. It’s easy. It’s quick. It’s delicious enough to eat by the spoonful. It will elevate your desserts and lighten your lasagne. I made this to spoon onto peach pizza, but I think we all wound up eating as much of the cheese, plain, as we did the pizza.

Here’s what you need:
1/2 gallon whole milk
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup lemon juice
a saucepan, a strainer, some cheesecloth, and a large bowl

Here’s what you do:
Combine the milk and yogurt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat, pour in lemon juice, and let sit for an hour. No need to stir in the lemon juice — just pour it in and let it curdle the milk/yogurt mixture. Toward the end of the hour, get out your strainer, line it with cheesecloth, and set that over a bowl. Pour the curdled milk into the strainer and let it sit another hour, at which point it’s ready to serve (or refrigerate), or let it sit longer (you could leave it over night). The recipe suggests gathering up the ends of the cheesecloth and hanging the dripping cheese from your sink faucet, but I don’t think it’s necessary. You can save the milk that drips off the cheese and use it for baking, as I do, or pour it down the drain. If you want to get a little fancy, you could steep a cinnamon stick or some rosemary or something in the milk while it’s heating, but trust me, the ricotta is delicious enough to eat absolutely unadorned.

Ben’s Essay About Reading

I am trying, and so far failing, to write an essay about watching Ben start to read. Since he dictated such a lovely succinct essay the last time we talked about writing, I asked him what he would say about the subject. Here’s his response:

Ben is learning to read words. He’s so proud of himself. We’re proud too. Whenever we play Scrabble and Caroline plays a word, and tells me to read it, I always just read it!

I just have nothing to add to that.

Cooling Chocolate Lime Pie

Some friends went on vacation last week and emptied out their fridge for us, so suddenly we had a windfall of limes. Tony made a great avocado-tomatillo-lime salsa (Eli was eating it by the spoonful), and I made lime curd to spread on biscuits with blackberries (inspired somewhat by this Gourmet recipe). But there were still more! So I dug through my folder of recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines, and found this.

I know most of the country is still sweltering (and we’re back to unusually warm weather ourselves), so this dessert won’t make you break a sweat. No oven required, very little labor, and each bite is meltingly cool. All it takes is a bit of advance planning, since it needs to sit in the refrigerator for a couple hours (or overnight) to firm up. Maybe you can find room in your fridge to join it.

1 3/4 c graham cracker crumbs (from about 15 graham crackers)
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
6 tbsp melted butter

4 limes
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 c heavy cream
1 one-oz square bittersweet chocolate

Combine graham cracker crumbs, cocoa and butter in a bowl. Press into a 9-inch springform pan, covering the bottom and pushing crumbs halfway up the side of the pan. Refrigerate until needed.

Grate 2 tbsp zest from the limes, then squeeze the juice (you should get about 3/4 c). Combine the juice and zest with the sweetened condensed milk and cream. Whisk until it thickens up a bit (the recipe says to keep whisking until it holds peaks, but I got tired way before that, and it all turned out ok). Pour the batter into the prepared crust and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight.

To serve, remove the side of the springform pan and grate the bittersweet chocolate on top. Serve immediately, as the pie will melt away if you leave it at room temperature.

Train Time

Ben doesn’t want me to play trains with him these days, he really just wants a witness. Or so I thought, since he was always shooting down my innovative track ideas, disagreeing with my notions of which train car could attach to which other train car, etc. So, the other morning, I stood up and started doing some yoga. Ben tolerated this for a couple minutes before saying, “Caroline, how about a little less yoga and a little more trains?”
Duly chastised, I sat down and started pushing my Mike engine (see, he doesn’t even let me touch the Thomas engine) around the track again.

Barbequed Peach Pizza!

Usually, my favorite thing to do with fresh summer peaches is to just slice them up onto my morning bowl of O’s and granola. But occasionally, I want something fancier, something to share with the whole family. Then, peach pie is a great way to go, but that heats up the whole kitchen. So then I saw this recipe. Brilliant! I couldn’t resist; we’ve been outside grilling food a lot anyway, why not grill dessert, too?
Now, I’m giving the recipe as I found it (torn out of a long-forgotten magazine). Next time I make it, though, I might spread the ricotta directly on the crust, before putting on the peaches. Someone try that and let me know how it goes.

4 large ripe peaches
juice of 1 lemon
1 pound of pizza dough
1 16-oz container ricotta cheese
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp supgar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 c pumpkin seeds or pistachios

Preheat a gas grill to high; adjust to low after 15 minutes.
Peel the peaches, cut each into 16 slices, and drizzle with lemon juice. Set aside.
Combine the ricotta with 1/4 c sugar, set aside. Now combine the cinnamon and remaining 2 tbsp sugar and set that aside.
Lightly flour the back of a large baking sheet or pizza peel. Roll out the pizza dough to 1/4″ thick. Place the dough on the baking sheet, brush it with half the butter, and slide off the baking sheet directly onto the grill. Cook until the underside of the dough starts to brown, about 5 minutes (don’t worry if it bubbles up a little). Use tongs to slide the dough back onto your baking sheet, then flip the ungrilled side onto the grate. Brush the cooked side of the dough with the remaining butter. Arrange the peaches on top, and sprinkle with sugar & cinnamon and pumpkin seeds. Cover the grill and cook for 8-12 minutes, o runtil the underside of the crust browns. Slide off the grill and serve warm with the sweetened ricotta.