blackeyed pea salad with celery, mango, and peppers

black eyed pea salad with mangoThis is my version of a salad someone brought to the Easter party I attended this year. Which is hard to believe was just last weekend. It’s been one of those world shifting weeks. Before I get into that, though, let me tell you about the salad. Because (a) I want to write it down before I forget what I did, and (b) I’m starting to realize that I should always put the recipe first. That way people who just want the recipe won’t have to wade through a bunch of words about whatever else I’m interested in. So. Here’s how I made the salad. And trust me. This is one of those dishes that tastes a whole lot better than the crappy photo makes it out to be. Really. It’s delicious.

1 cup blackeyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. honey
salt to taste

Bring  four cups of water to a boil, add the peas, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, adding about a teaspoon of salt in the last 15 minutes. (They may take a bit longer. Cook until tender but not so long they turn to mush.) Remove from heat and let the peas cool for a while in their cooking liquid while you prep the mango, celery, and pepper. Once everything is chopped, transfer to a large bowl. Then drain the peas, put them on top of the chopped produce,  and drizzle the olive oil, vinegar, and honey on top. Stir to combine. Taste and add salt, more vinegar, and honey as needed.

This is best at room temperature. But on a hot summer day I bet it will be pretty damn good right out of the fridge.

Now. On to the world-shifting week. Right now, as I write this, I’m in Tallahassee. I had to come down all of a sudden because my aunt died last Saturday night, in a car accident. I found out first thing Sunday morning. Which made for a weird, fragile, surreal Easter.

On the one hand, I was happy. A relatively new friend had invited me and another relatively new friend for Easter. I love spending time with both of these people. So I’d been looking forward to the party for weeks, feeling grateful for the direction my life has taken and thinking about what I could contribute. After I finally decided what to bring, I spent much of Saturday making pickled red beets and red onions, to complement the hostess’s lamb heart salad, something that sounded simultaneously brilliant and revolting. They turned out really well. Beautiful. Delicious. (I’ll write about them soon.) I was excited to share them with people. And ever since the class with Ana Forrest a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been working really hard to not fixate on how I think I should be feeling and instead just feel whatever is actually going on without judgment. So, on Sunday, I couldn’t just stop the happy feelings in their tracks.

On the other hand, I was in shock and, at times, overcome with sadness. My Aunt Alice, who married my mom’s brother, was a stay-at-home mom with two boys. Our two families grew up next door to each other. While I haven’t seen her much in recent years, she was a huge part of my life and someone whose presence I foolishly took for granted. She has always been there, a constant for my entire memory. And while I’m sure she sometimes wished I would not come over quite so often, I think m y aunt, who I adored, also loved having a niece who was almost like a part-time daughter.

All of this combined for a weird Easter Sunday. While I waited for it to be time to go to the party, I made a cake. This cake. honey ginger cakeIt’s a honey spice cake without gluten and refined sugar. Again, I’ll post sometime soon with the recipe. For now, it’s enough to say that I couldn’t have planned a more perfect way to spend that time. It was perfect because Aunt Alice was the one who taught me to bake, letting my cousin and I break eggs, showing us how to measure flour, separate the whites and yolks, and do all the things one does to transform individual ingredients into cooked food starting when we had to stand on stools in order to reach the counter.

Originally, that’s what I meant to write about. About the cake and about Aunt Alice teaching me to bake and about loss and life and grief and a million things. Hoping to articulate this as well as some of the ways in which my life has changed in the last year. But there wasn’t time to try. I had to go to the party. Then it was Monday. I had to work. Cope with the reality of my aunt’s death. Find an affordable plane ticket. Come to Tallahassee. Attend the funeral. See my cousin and the rest of my family. Grieve.

Now I’m here in my hometown, surrounded by my family and immersed in this nature that is so much a part of who I am. I’m breathing in the humid Florida air. Listening to the crazy loud insect symphony. Feeling the reality of all these feelings. Without analysis or cataloging. Just feeling. Somehow finding that there isn’t so much to write about. Instead I’m busy trying to live well. Spending time with people I love.  Doing my best to be grateful for every minute. And trusting that here will be time to write more later. For now, namaste.

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Norwegian lentil “meatballs”

lentil meatballs in gravyThis recipe was originally inspired by Sylvia Fountaine’s post at feasting at home. (http://bit.ly/1lsdpLe) Except the Norwegian spin, which came from one of my two book clubs, the one in which we try to read books from, or at least about, other countries. Whoever is hosting tries to serve food from, or at least influenced by, that place. Our most recent book was “Norwegian by Night,” by Derek Miller. Which was very good. And set in Norway. But with a heavy emphasis on being a Jew from New York forced to live in Norway. So I think it’s okay that I took such enormous liberties with what is apparently a most classic Norwegian dish. Especially since the end result, which was heavily influenced by Signe Johansen’s recipe in Food and Wine (http://bit.ly/1hlg8ks), wound up being completely delicious, as well as entirely gluten and sugar free. Note that the meatballs themselves are vegan. But the gravy is not.  Here’s what I did.

Meatballs
1 c. black lentils (uncooked)
5 or 6 cardamon pods, lightly crushed
1/2 c. quinoa (uncooked)
1/2 med. onion, finely chopped
1 t. ground allspice
1 t. ground cardamon
1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 T pink Himalayan (or kosher or sea) salt
6 oz. firm tofu
2 T. olive oil

Gravy
1 qt. beef stock
1/3 c. red wine (something you would drink) or brandy
1-1/2 c. creme fraiche or sour cream
1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Rinse the lentils and place them in a medium pot with 3 cups of water and the cardamon pods. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Drain well.

2. While the lentils are cooking, rinse the quinoa and place it in a small pot with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 14 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the lid.

3. Saute the onion in 1 T. olive oil over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Add the spices and salt, and cook for another minute or two until fragrant.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 400 and line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Combine the quinoa, half of the lentils, and the onion mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times, until it has the texture of coarse sand. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the tofu and remaining olive oil to the bowl of the food processor (no need to rinse) and mix until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Mix the tofu mixture into the lentil/quinoa combination, then stir in the remaining lentils until everything is thoroughly combined. Either form the mixture into balls or, if it’s too wet (as mine was), use a tablespoon measure to form ball-like patties on the prepared baking sheet(s). Bake for 20-25 minutes. If you prefer a crisp exterior, flip the balls and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

5. While the balls are baking, make the gravy. Boil the stock in a large, deep skillet for approximately ten minutes, until it’s reduced by half. Then add the wine (or brandy) and boil for another two or three minutes. Whisk in the creme fraiche and cocoa powder, reduce the heat, and simmer until the balls are done. Serve on the side.