Wednesday, August 24, 2011

thai melon salad

thai melon salad
last week, larry and i had a really
lovely day. it was the day after my
birthday and we both took off from
work. i drank coffee in bed and, later,
we ate lunch outside, very close
to the ocean. we bought fig vinegar
from an olive oil shop and sat on the
boardwalk with our legs dangling over
the sand. we went to see the help,
which i've been hoping to see in the theatre,
since finishing the book last november.

in between the beach and the movies,
we stopped at the book store, where i was
given a really great gift: unlimited time
to look through as many cookbooks as i
wanted. and, truthfully, that's quite a gift.
as much as i love cookbooks, i rarely buy
them. and when, i do, it's a specific book
that i've had my eye on for a while. rarely,
do i just plant myself in front
of the shelves and read.

ultimately, i left with three - two baking
books that, it turns out, i actually had wanted,
but had forgotten about,
and a third, cooking in the moment
by andrea reusing.

to be honest, i keep picking up and putting down
the last one. i would decide that i was not
going to keep it and then i'd turn one last page
and see a recipe, like the one for
black sesame sauce.
in that case, i read the recipe twice
and thought, ok, i know
how to make this. as i shut the book,
i noticed a page reading
garlic and crab fried rice.
this happened several times.
ultimately, it was the kale panini and
salt preserved chilies that cinched
my decision.

that night, i got back in bed and read
cooking in the moment from cover to cover.
and, in spite of my curiosity about the
recipes above, i knew that the first dish i
would be making was the
spicy melon salad with peanuts and mint.
it uses fish sauce. and a lot of it.
need i say more?
and, then, you should have seen me the next
day, standing at the grocery store, staring at
the melons, trying to channel my melon
knowledge. is it the santa claus melon that's
really sweet or is it the canary? are any melons
really dark orange? or yellow? what will happen
if i add watermelon? will the color run?

ultimately, i was lucky.
a melon expert - or at least he seemed
that way to me - helped me pick three
small, sweet flavorful globes. he was spot
on. (except when the next day i realized
that i somehow had two green-fleshed melons,
but i'm very over it.)

after a search for my melon baller -
a tool i'm pretty sure i haven't used since
culinary school - i cracked open the melons
on sunday, prepared to make a cooling
summer salad for a hot summer night.
except it was sunday.
when there was lightening.
and thunder.
and rainstorms that made me fear
for our basement.
so, i scooped melons for a cool evening.
balled out melon
honeydew, galla, crenshaw
and, that's ok, too.
the melons were incredibly sweet,
floral and juicy. i pulled small
and large balls from
all three:
the honeydew,
the crenshaw and
the galia.
(as for the remaining melon in
each half, i used a spoon to separate
them from their skins, put all three
into the same container and have
been adding the pieces and sweet
juice to my smoothies in the morning.
it's been a nice change.)

i whisked together the juice of two limes,
a few glugs from a new bottle of fish sauce -
i forgot how powerful a brand new bottle
could be - a squeeze of agave and an
unfortunately, mild, chopped
red fresno chile pepper.

the dressing was powerful.
slightly spicy, slightly sweet,
tangy and salty. i tossed it over
the melons, took a premature bite
and knew that i would love this dish.
simplified, it reminded me of a
sweet green papaya salad.

the recipe said to let it the mixture
sit for at least 45 minutes or up to
several hours. we went for three.
before serving, i topped it with
shreds of mint and salted peanuts
and we dug in.

the marinating liquid is
unbelievably bold.
but, the melons, when picked up with
a fork, instead of scooped,
gave a significantly more subtle delivery.
i don't know how many fruit salads are eaten
with a spoon,
but it would be a shame to leave all that
limey-fish sauciness on the bottom
of the bowl.
team spoon. all the way.

this salad slash side dish slash
potential dessert is everything i look
for in a recipe.
it's different, so it won't see itself
coming and going. but, more importantly,
it's sweet and salty and soft and crunchy.
it's slightly spicy and kind of tangy
and would be perfect on
a hot night spent outside.

it was a recipe that gave me
reassurance. it made me feel justified
about buying the cookbook. and, about
making larry amuse himself in the bookstore
while i dealt with my indecisiveness.
and, it made me find my melon baller.
worth it all around.
melon, chopped peanuts, chile, mint, fish sauce, lime juice
thai melon salad
adapted from cooking in the moment
i followed this recipe pretty closely. the only real changes were using agave instead of sugar and using a serrano chile pepper and a red fresno chile pepper, because neither were very spicy. with a spicy pepper, i would have stuck to one. i also chose not to measure the peanuts - just grabbed a handful and chopped.

i agree that this salad should only sit for a couple hours. by the next day, the melons had expelled a lot of their own liquid and mellowed the flavor of the dish significantly.

2-3 assorted melons
2 large, juicy limes, juiced
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon agave
1 spicy chile pepper, chopped
10 mint leaves
1 small handful roasted and salted peanuts

halve melons. using melon baller, scoop melon into balls, transferring to a measuring cup as you scoop. measure 4 cups melon. transfer melons to mixing bowl.

in liquid measuring cup, measure 1/4 cup lime juice. whisk in fish sauce, agave and chile pepper. pour lime juice mixture over melons; toss to combine. cover; chill 45 minutes, or up to several hours.

when ready to serve, rip mint leaves into smaller pieces. chop peanuts.

using a slotted spoon, transfer melon to serving platter or bowls. top with spoonfuls of marinade. garnish with mint and chopped peanuts.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

for love. and peanut butter pie.

peanut butter pie
over six years ago,
we were visiting colleen and christian
when i got the kind of call you
never want to get. not ever.
and not in the house of your
friend's boyfriend, no matter how wonderful
they are. it was my mother,
telling me that my ex-boyfriend - the
ex-boyfriend, who i dated for six years,
starting one month into our freshman
year of college - had died. we hadn't
spoken since one month after our
break up. to me - to everyone - the horrible
accident came out of nowhere.
had we still been a couple, i'm not
sure how i would have managed. if i'm being
honest, i still don't think i've fully recovered.
from that phone call.
from his accident.
from knowing that even though we would never have
been remembering together anymore,
i am now the only one who can know our memories.

to say that i was an immense worrier before
his death, would be fair. i have always been
fearful of things large and small.
but after that, everything was elevated.
i dream about him, about trying to stop him from
stepping into an elevator or leaving the room.
when i wake up, i panic for my family.
when i haven't heard from or can't reach
my mom,
my dad,
my sisters,
my grandmother,
i hate myself for it, but i obsess over the worst.
i hate myself for allowing myself to think things
that are not doing anyone any good.
my mind is set to catastrophe.

on monday morning,
the first thing that i saw were three
tweets, in a row, with the message that
a food blogger had lost her husband
unexpectedly to a heart attack the day before.
i follow jennifer perillo on twitter.
i read her blog.
i've known her as an active member of food52.
the closest i've ever been to her, was making
her homemade manicotti for larry last winter.
but, when i saw the tweet, i was unable to focus
on anything else. i drove to work shaken and
all day my mind wandered back to jennie and
her two daughters. when larry got home from work,
i tried to tell him what happened
and shocked both of us
when i started crying uncontrollably.

when i calmed, i hugged him. hard.
then, i told him about jennie and her
two young daughters and how we really don't
know each other, but through her tweets,
i knew about her date nights and that i've
been meaning to try her lentil-ricotta meatballs
and that the hardest thing for me - and i've come
to find out, others - to see, was that her last tweet
before she lost her husband, was about canning
marinara and getting ready for their vacation
to cape cod in 13 days. i felt for jennie in a way
that i did not know i could feel for someone
who i did not personally know.

jennie posted last week,
talking about her husband in a way i believe
few of us would have the courage to do. and,
in a time when i think many of us who know
her peripherally, felt helpless, jennie asked for
us to make her husband, mikey's, favorite dessert,
a peanut butter pie, on friday, to honor
him and those who we love the most in our lives.

and, so i did.
i made the recipe exactly as it was
written. i tried not to sweat it when my crust
crumbled a little into the melted chocolate
layer, knowing that was not the point. the point
was that even on friday, five days later, jennie, her
husband and her daughters were still on the forefront
of my mind and, because, my family was even closer. i
made it for the people who i love and have loved.

and, i served it to my family tonight.
i told them the story of our dessert and
about the hundreds of food bloggers who came together
to make peanut butter pies for our families, and in
our hearts, for a family who many of us do not know.
as we ate, i showed them this video
that has brought me to tears each
time i've watched it. and, we talked about showing
the people that you love, that you love them, always.

for the pie recipe, to see more about the
amazing food community that rallied or
to learn more about jennifer's strength,

tomorrow, i'm making a peanut butter pie

makings of a peanut butter pie
and, you can, too.
here's why.