Thursday, June 11, 2009

we're ok, we're fine

for me, it is very hard
to look at food and to see
it just as food.
i really do associate different
dishes with different parts of
my life or memories.

i never have a bite of 
carrot cake without thinking
of all of our family birthdays
(or the fact that, believe it or not,
back in the day, Friday's,
made the best carrot cake ever
and my mom tried to get their
recipe but they said no. or the fact
that years later, at our monthly
birthday party at the magazine, 
a co-worker's mom
had baked a carrot cake that tasted
just like the one from Friday's and I 
thought, finally. but then, her mother
refused to give up the recipe. and the 
coworker said she didn't blame her.
what's that about?)

or pastina, which i recently made
for larry when he wasn't feeling
well because when i was growing
up, my mom made pastina.
yes, this time around it tasted
a bit like baby food, but,
i think we were both comforted
even now.

or pizza with vinegar,
which is almost always how i eat
pizza, once lauren and i finally
drizzled it on. we had spent years
watching other customers drizzle
red wine vinegar onto 
their ultra thin crust pie at 
a restaurant that gives you 
a T-shirt if you eat an 18"
round on your own.
finally, while sharing a smaller
pie, we cracked and loved it.

and whenever, i make this 
artichoke soup,
i will think about our wedding
and honeymoon, or more
our first day back to work,
following the madness.

we were engaged for 
one year and one month
when i started my new job.
our wedding was 5 months away
and we had yet to fully confirm
our honeymoon. up until this point,
i had been holding tight to my 
croatia fantasy, but hadn't cemented 
the plans.
so, when i gave my new boss the days
that i needed off, i panicked and 
gave a return date much sooner 
than i should have, 
worrying that i would disappoint 
everyone too quickly. 

we were marrying on a sunday,
i imagined leaving for the honeymoon
on tuesday, and i told them, 
sure, no problem, i'll be back 
the following thursday.

the second i said it, i regretted it, 
knowing that not only were we no 
longer going overseas, but also
that there would be little to any
downtime between returning home
and heading back to work.

so, we booked a trip to barbados
(actually to curacao first, but
that didn't work out), for
tuesday to tuesday.
then, about a three and a half months
later, a position -
a promotion - opened up 
and i was encouraged to go for it.
i spent the next few weeks heavily
preparing and about 3 weeks
before the wedding, got the job.
start date? immediately.

while on our honeymoon,
i tried not to, but i worried that
we would rush back and go
to work and that it would feel
like we never went away. 
i sat in our gorgeous private
pool thinking about the fact
that in 5-4-3-2 days we
would be back and at night,
i dreamt about things that
i forgot to take care of before
i left.
we still had a good time
and i worked hard to
get over myself.

i woke up wednesday morning, 
knowing that the 
next day, 
not only would i be at work,
but that it would be the beginning
of a 9 day-straight stretch.
it really, honestly, hurt.

thursday came, 
i went to work
and everyone was lovely, 
welcoming me back, 
acting like they had known
me for longer than 5 months,
asking for wedding pictures,
honeymoon stories, 
to see my wedding band.
but, still i had 400 e-mails,
which meant 
my inbox was full, which meant
that i couldn't reply to any until
i deleted at least half. 
i was now officially into my job
and rightfully expected to jump
back in and take responsibility
for myself as a professional,
not a planning-a-wedding-learning-
a-job quasi employee.

we were back. 
which, to me, meant
back to everything. i searched for 
a recipe to make for dinner that night, 
found this quick soup
shopped for the ingredients and
drove home, teary.
it wasn't that the wedding was over.
it was just that we were back,
from the vacation, the getaway,
the everything we had planned
for so long, but really,
we hadn't planned for this.
i had to work like crazy now,
but plan-wise, i was free for
the foreseeable future.
it felt scary.

when i walked in, larry greeted me,
arms out, asked me how my day was 
and i burst out crying,
saying (and, really i'm not proud
of this): hard, it was hard. 
we're back.
and now we're just married people
who work.
i set to work chopping the onion,
a good excuse to pretend that's why 
i was crying.
then i tossed garlic and 
artichokes into the pan
with broth and simmered them 
together. i did puree it, 
but decided that i was too cranky
to strain the smooth mixture, 
considering that i 
had already cheated terribly
by buying pesto (after growing
up in a pesto-making household),
instead of making it.

a handful of grated romano cheese,
a few big squeezes of lemon
and a splash of milk
turned the creamy soup
from so-so to very good.
the jalapeno-pecan pesto that i had
picked up was fantastic,
and together with cornbread,
they made the night so much
easier to swallow.
we looked at our honeymoon
pictures again, talked to 
friends and family,
spent a crazy amount
of time staring at our rings
(which we had left behind,
lest losing our new pieces
of jewelry at the beach),
and i finally realized it would
be ok. 
non-stop running around.

this soup, made from
not so much, kind of snapped
me out of it, made me deal
with life and made me 
grateful for the fact that
we even had a honeymoon,
seven uninterrupted days 
together and
and that my typically pale
arms were actually tan.
when i re-made the soup
last week, it wasn't quite
so magical, but it was still
quick and comforting.
this time, i blended together my own
pesto - trying to recreate
the one that i bought 9
months before. 
i used arugula instead of
parsley and truth be told,
it tasted nothing like
the other, but still, i believe,
it is a pesto that could stand up
against others.
and when i dropped a dollop
in, it kind of made me forget
that on the walk over to the table, 
the soup had sloshed around,
messing up its edges
and was no longer pretty.
so, i took a breath, 
took a picture,
took a spoonful,
remembered the first
taste last september,
and settled down.
lemon artichoke soup
the first time i made this soup, i evened it all out with about 1/4 cup of milk. the second time i didn't - i think the milk mellows the mixture nicely, but it's certainly not necessary. this recipe is pretty different at this point than the original - one major change: i still haven't strained the mixture after pureeing. i'm fine with the texture, but if you want it ultra silky smooth, add the step back in.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 cans (16 ounces each) artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
3 cups (or more) fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup grated romano cheese
1 large juicy lemon, juiced

in saucepot over medium heat, warm oil 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until hot. add onion; season with salt and pepper. cook 8 minutes, or until soft and translucent. add garlic and cook 1 minute. add artichoke hearts and chicken broth. bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 8-10 minutes, or until artichokes are very soft. using immersion blender, puree mixture. 

(if you do not have an immersion blender, transfer mixture to blender, in batches and very carefully blend, putting a towel over the lid and pressing down tightly. hot mixtures live to blow the tops off of blenders, so again, be careful.)

if necessary, thin mixture out using additional broth or milk. stir in cheese and lemon juice. season with salt and pepper. adjust flavorings adding more salt, pepper, cheese or lemon, if necessary. top with pesto.

arugula, jalapeno and pecan pesto
i wanted a spicy pesto and i was fortunate enough to pick one jalapeno that packed a lot of heat. otherwise, i would have thrown a second one in. use your judgement. and, keep in mind that arugula is a bitter green, so this pesto boasts a bit of bitterness. this pesto is not as loose and oily as they usually are. i stopped drizzling it in once the mixture came together into a smooth cohesive mixture, if you want something less firm, keep drizzling in until it reaches your desired consistency. 

oh, and the leftovers were so good smeared on toast, topped with pickled onions and a sunny side up egg.

3 cups packed arugula
3 cloves garlic, halved
1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, chopped toasted pecans, divided
1/3 cup grated romano cheese
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and quartered
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons (or more) olive oil

in bowl of food processor, combine arugula, garlic, 1/3 cup pecans, cheese, jalapenos and lemon juice. pulse 5-8 times, or until chopped and combined. with motor running, very slowly drizzle in olive oil to emulsify mixture. transfer mixture to bowl; stir in remaining pecans. cover; chill in fridge until ready to use.

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