Yes, you can take French Toast to the beach

Gilles and I celebrated our first year of marriage today! We had planned on celebrating by going to a nice little restaurant on the beach for brunch, but if you know us, you’ll suspect that didn’t happen.

We are the people who vacation at friends’ houses and end up cooking for them the whole week. Not always to their approval, either (an under-ripe persimmon incident comes to mind).

I am the person (Gilles is not to blame for this one) who made friends help me make ravioli from scratch for our dinner when they were starving and exhausted.

We are the people who cooked duck with fig confit to celebrate our engagement instead of going to a nice restaurant like normal people.

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A-ha Moments with Spinach

Have you ever had one of those moments where you finally get what all the fuss is about? I happened to me when I heard Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” the first time I caught a wave on a surfboard, and with a swallow of cognac from a 150 year old distillery near my father-in-law’s family home. For years, I hadn’t understood why people obsessed over Adele, surfing, or any alcohol in the whisky-burbon-scotch-cognac family, and then, in an instant, I did.

This dish was my moment with spinach. I like spinach, and I eat plenty of it in salads or mixed in with a variety of rice and pasta dishes, but I had never thought of it as much of a star player on its own. Spinach is just not that interesting of a flavor, right? Boy, was I wrong. In this dish, the flavor of spinach becomes strong and deeply verdant; the leaves around the edges of the pan crisp up and mix with crisped cheese to make little spinach nachos; the soft velvet texture of spinach is offset by breadcrumbs; this dish is spinach, seriously good. Not that we have a cultural obsession with spinach, but maybe we should. Maybe if we all ate this dish, we’d have a unanimous A-ha moment about just how good this little green leaf can taste.

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Grapefruit and Candied Walnut Salad

I am not terribly fussy about food, in general. I like good quality food, but that is different than being all delicate about it. Seeds in the orange juice? Not a problem. Peel on the fruit, preferred. Peel on the potatoes preferred, for that matter. A bit of shell in the egg? Not going to worry about it (unless you’ve come over for brunch, in which case I will make one or two attempts to remove it). Antithetically to this kitchen attitude and behavior, I spent much of my youth working in the kitchen of a restaurant – a Tea Room, it was called, even – which served quite fussy food to grey-haired ladies. We’re talking cucumber sandwiches, petite aspics, lemon tartelettes. We’re talking we had to remove the crispy rib of a lettuce leaf before turning it to salad, because the crispy bit might be offensive. It’s a good life practice to occasionally have to behave in exactly the opposite way you’re inclined; keeps you flexible, and teaches you to be cognizant of a world unlike yours, in which people prefer their eggs without a little crunch of shell.

In this salad, I applied some of my old Tea Room training to prepare the grapefruit in the manner we used to for Sunday fruit salad. This technique removes most of the peel, pith, and the membrane that divides each section. It leaves only the most delicate part of the fruit. Can I tell you something? After preparing the perfect little sections, I ate the remains of the membranous de-sectioned fruit.

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Rhubarb Breakfast

Some weekend mornings are for heaping plates of French Toast or Pancakes with capital letters and accompanied by large mugs of coffee and frothed milk. If you’re us, that’s actually most weekend mornings. Occasionally on a Saturday, one wakes up and does not think, ‘I’d really like to gorge myself on bread products.’ For those Saturdays, one still wishes for alternatives to the weekday oatmeal ritual.

Luckily, last night, I noticed that the rhubarb we bought at the market last week was really losing it… I’m talking final death throes. Gilles was nice enough to prepare the rhubarb last night and begin cooking it, so when I woke this morning wanting not pancakes and not oatmeal, there was some rhubarb on the stove, nearly ready to go. A few more minutes cooking and a dollop of yogurt later, breakfast was served!

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Chicken with Creamy Rice, Spinach, & Mushrooms

When I was in college, a new friend of ours who had recently arrived from Norway cooked a pasta dish for the ladies in our house. We were bowled over by this sweet, foreign boy who cooked this a tasty meal. He’s so tall! So blond! With an accent! And he cooks! Carried away by such novelties, and the delectable dish itself, we ate more than we normally would have allowed ourselves (except for, of course, when one of us would make a pan of brownies, and everyone would devour them in a scant 2 hours, thinking, surely, ‘I didn’t eat that many brownies; those other three girls have no self control!’ Obviously, when all four people are thinking this, all four people are wrong). When we finished swallowing the pasta dish as though it were a pan of freshly-baked brownies, everyone wanted to know: ‘Rassmus, how did you make this dish? Why is it so good???’ He proceeded to describe the recipe, which I’ve forgotten except for the three most important ingredients: cream, half and half, and sour cream. Oh, good god. Have you ever tried to offer a California college woman a full-fat latte, let alone a dish containing not one but THREE kinds of cream? Four female faces paled, as though we had just discovered some horrific news; really there is nothing so horrific to a college woman as the prospect of gaining weight.

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Rose Pancakes for Mom

Happy Mother’s Day!

Do all kids make breakfast for their moms on Mother’s Day? I think they should. Every year, I served my mom scrambled eggs, since that was the only dish I knew how to make. Also, every year my dad and I would go to the florist to buy her a bouquet and (for some reason) a mug that would say something like “World’s Best Mom” or “Love you, Mother” I believe my mom has since “lost” many of these gifts (I would have, too), but if you search her cupboards, you can still find a number of ceramic cups extolling her virtues as a parent, not that they’re wrong.

Mom, you are probably the most generous, and at the same time strongest, people I know; I think this is a rare combination of virtues. I admire that you live out these virtues through your actions, as you are not one for hyperbole (understatement of the year!). Among the many gifts you’ve given me is my love of the beach, and a fair dose of bravery in the cold Pacific Ocean. I remember swimming out beyond the surf zone with you, feeling at once terrified by our distance from the shore, and reassured by your huge smile and joy of treading a little puddle worth of the largest body of water in the world. I wish we lived in the same town so I could make you a nice breakfast.

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A Pizza Worth (or worthy of) the Hike

The crushing sound and terrifying power of a waterfall flowing with the full force of the spring melt quickly reminds one that the world is indeed neither small nor digital. Our world can feel very full and cloistered; people, cars, little electronic signals reminding you to CHECK YOUR MESSAGES!!! Not but a few days walk from a trailhead, the world feels wide open, and the simple act of the sun melting snow has created something more powerful than all that brain power I put towards… whatever it is I do all day.

The top of Rancheria Falls, Hetch Hetchy

Suddenly, I can’t recall why I spend so many hours doing math with a computer, or obsessively sweeping my floors. Nor do I pine for my All Clad pots or Global chef’s knife while digging into simple food cooked with simple tools over a smokey fire.

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