Maybe it's a winter thing. Or a long slog thing? Or being human. Anyway. Sometimes you just need to gather all the good things, together, in one place. To bask, a little. Sit in their glow. Lay them out in a line, like small boys and toy cars. Or small girls and their stuffies. Or grown-ups and their gratefuls.
Call it ballast for the last month (or three), and for the weeks to come, yes? Let's be off, then...
:: This stunner of a quarterly. Glossy, gorgeous, gutsy. My friend Megan built this lovely from dreams and gumption, two years ago, and continues to do the impossible, daily. I've had the great good fortune to interview Misty Copeland, Lucinda Scala Quinn, Jeni Britton Bauer and Brian Hersch, in issues past. I always forget to mention these things.
:: In an effort to correct this lapse, a heads-up, then, re: Issue 8. Not only did I pass a fine morning with Helen Nurse of Tracy Chambers Vintage (how about that cover??); I also had the great pleasure of talking work, home, and family with the inimitable Amanda Soule. Good stuff, these women, this Cake & Whiskey. (Available by subscription, or at a Barnes and Noble near you.)
:: Wiling away winter days with tropical fruits. Particularly those that require hammers, screwdrivers, and extreme force to access.
:: For the record? They were not enamored of either the water, or the sweet flesh. I adored both. But, as in preschool, it was all about process, and a huge bucket list box was checked. Also? Coconut water straight from the coconut is nothing like what you get in Tetra Paks. (Translation: it's actually lovely.)
:: The annual January purge: oh, how I've come to love thee! Muffin papers get sorted, marshmallows jarred, all manner of odds and ends handled/tossed/ordered.
:: Do I make purging sound like it's all easy-breezy? My bad. More like undergoing a kidney transplant. Performed by yours truly. Without training. Or drugs. Still, I like the results.
:: Almost as much as the fruits of my procrastination. Since September, I've meant to archive our blocks, which this year have gathered actual dust. I observed this fact. Then went into denial. Deep. Then, decided to stay. But then, by gum, my girl asked me last week, "Do you want to build a block town with me?" HECK yeah.
:: I am not a tea drinker. I want to be a tea drinker. Long to be a tea drinker. Try, every year, to become a tea drinker. But by and large, black tea makes me puke. Still, I so want to convert that I'm forever trawling the tea aisle. So it was that I stumbled on Numi's savory teas recently. I bought a box of the Carrot Curry, on impulse, and cannot. get. enough. It's a bit sweet, and a bit spicy, not quite tea, not quite soup, more a thin sippable broth, and so dang warm. (In searching for a link, I came across this review, and found myself both disagreeing completely and nodding heartily. It's weird stuff. But weirdly wonderful.)
:: Impromptu play dates, the easygoing kind, unplanned, uneventful, enjoyable. The best sort.
:: Friends and neighbors. All winter, I've wondered how on earth we'd get by, were it not for our tribe. It's been a wicked year, around here, for illnesses of all stripes. Relentless. Ongoing. Ridiculous enough to verge on hilarious. As viewed from, say, July. Until then, our everyday overflows with ordinary people, acting like rock stars, on repeat.
:: Crisp winter landscapes. I never tire.
:: Though, I'm beginning to realize, some do. Some people don't just like summer, I'm learning, but love it, crave it. Need it, even. These tend to be people who like things like plants and gardens and growing things. And though I could do without all of the above, for pretty much ever, I'm privileged to share a roof with someone who can't. And to watch. And learn. My curriculum is, I suspect, huge.
:: Finding my kids finding the books I've planted on their shelves, to discover whenever. Then finding they've read way past their allotted time, lost in the can't-put-it-down pages.
:: Finding, while clearing last year's reading from my nightstand, that I apparently pick books not by cover or content, but by color. Who knew? (Hint: what's black and white and red/read all over? Molly's 2014 book list!) Need more evidence? Not pictured here: Delancey and The Night Circus. Weird, right??
:: I do have kids. And way too many pictures. And maybe, a .0000013% shot at France. HOWEVER, I stink at sending cards (hence, this blog), mostly because, meh. I'd do cards better if they all read like this.
:: Or this.
:: This ad. (Thanks, Annette!)
:: This cartoon. (Thanks, Shannon!!)
:: This Sunday. I know. I can't believe it, either. Not. My. Beat. But seriously, Seahawks, two years running? What's an expat football imbecile to do?
:: Ashley, on being fed. Yes.
:: Luisa, on Ashley's bittersweet brownies. With salted (!) peanut butter (!!) frosting (!!!). Someone, please, an excuse to make these?
:: Luisa (again) and her take on cake. Amen.
:: Shauna's popcorn recipe. Go ahead. Try and find it. It's in there, amidst all the excellent rest. Just, please, get distracted along the way? Destination and journey are equally fine.
:: A family, finally old enough to play games. Every last member. Really play. Read rules. Roll die. Hold cards. Handle setbacks. Beginning to end. Wins. Losses. Encores. So. Good.
:: And still, young enough to add four inches to legs in twelve months. I've a heap of hemming to do...
:: This salad. Oh, this salad.
I struggle with salads, come winter. I long for, crave, need their crunch, much like some folks need their summer. And so I make them. And adore them. Until my teeth chattering drowns out the happy. Circulation and temperature regulation aren't my strong suit. Frozen fingers and toes, my bane. Mind: I LOVE winter, and bitter crisp cold. But I want me to be toasty, in the midst of it all. (See tea aspirations, above.)
Sounds awfully Marie Antoinette, I know, having my winter and staying warm, too. And eating salad, all the while. Marie Antoinette meets Immelda?
'S okay. I'm stubborn. And patient. And my shoe situation's pretty bare bones.
Also, I'm a hack. Which is how I found myself, sometime last fall, jury-rigging my way toward a solution. I first saw the outlines of a salad of roast carrots and avocado, several years ago. You probably did, too: fine dining visions are all over the place. They all seem to stem from either Jamie Oliver or April Bloomfield, and were I the conspiracy-theory-minded sort, I'd suspect this salad of some overtly delicious, covertly brilliant attempt by Britain to re-take these United States. (Never mind the Why.) They'd succeed, too. With me, anyway. They had me at roast carrots. God save the Queen!
I still mean to make that salad.
In the meantime, I'm too busy making this salad.
What emerged from that jury-rig was this: a heap of spinach, cut greedily with cilantro; rife with roast carrots, caramelized, warm; rich with avocado, feta, and almonds. I've repeated the hack an easy dozen times, since. As in most things, I tweak constantly, mostly entirely to great effect. I've used arugula, which in season, is nice. I've doubled the cilantro, and loved the effect. When I have them, I swap out the raw almonds for Marconas, and am always happy when I do. Recently, as friends were arriving for dinner, I warmed a pound of ordinary almonds in olive oil, shot through with minced rosemary, flecked with Maldon flakes. There were extras. They wound up, chopped, here. That was pretty fantastic.
Then again, every iteration's been pretty fantastic, as happens when a thing's got good bones. This is a meaty, muscular salad, the sort that can buttress or simply be dinner. I love the literal warmth of the carrots, which soften the spinach, ever so slightly. I love their smoky sweetness, the way that plays off the almonds' different nutty-sweet. I love the contrasting creamy lush of mild avocado and sharp feta. I love the subtle cilantro bite, abundant enough to be another leaf, reclusive enough to not overwhelm.
I love, most of all, oddly, truly, the spinach. None of the many originals included leaves. Maybe it's just me, but I need leaves. To cut the rich. To contradict the soft. To provide pause, and necessary quiet. To be the (green) white space on the plate, to allow us to revel in all the rich bling.
Someday, I'd like to dust the carrots with cumin. Supreme in some citrus. Crumble over arbol chilis. Add seeds. A mix, the more the merrier. Any, all of these things. Until then, in my actual life, this salad happens often, and easily. And streamlined though it may be? It already holds all the good things.
I use olive oil almost always for dressings, including in the one below. But last week, I pulled a tin of walnut oil from the fridge (no need to match nuts) and used that instead. Wonderful, memorable. If you have a fresh nut oil, kicking around? Use it here. It will shine.
6 medium carrots (1 lb.)
generous Tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
6 cups baby spinach
1/2 bunch cilantro (1 generous cup, coarsely chopped)
3/4 cup Marcona or toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
1 large, ripe avocado
2 Tbs. sherry or white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbs. olive or nut oil
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place rack near the bottom.
Before prepping carrots, slide a rimmed baking sheet into the hot oven. This gives you a little head start on burnished edges and caramelized bits. Peel, top and tail carrots, then slice into 1/2" coins. Carefully remove hot baking sheet from oven, drizzle with a generous Tablespoon of the olive oil, add carrot coins + 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and toss everything about to coat carrots in oil. Return to oven, and roast 18-20 minutes, removing tray at the 10-minute mark to shake and flip carrots, for even baking. Carrots are finished when tender to the core, puckering slightly, and caramelized at the edges. Set aside 10 minutes, while you prepare the salad and dressing.
In a small, lidded jar, add vinegar and salt, and swirl to dissolve salt. Add oil of your choice, replace lid, and shake madly to emulsify. Set aside.
In a large salad bowl, place spinach, chopped cilantro, chopped almonds, and crumbled feta. Pit avocado, remove flesh, cut into 1/2" dice, and add to one side of bowl. Tip roasted, slightly cooled carrots onto other sized. Drizzle dressing over all, and toss gently, thoroughly, to combine. Hands work well, here. Taste for seasoning, adjust to suit, grab a fork, and dig in.