Friday, June 24, 2011


Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi, is my current new favorite cookbook. And it's fitting, because right now, I'm feeling plenty. Plenty good, plenty bad, plenty scared, plenty perplexed, and plenty grateful in the midst of all of it.

Tonight, rock star husband had a recording session, so for me it was a bachelor dinner night, but I wasn't in the mood for my usual old mac & cheese or pizza, and since I'd just gotten my hands on this inspiring collection of recipes thanks to my pals Jamie & Eve, I decided to dig right in and treat myself to a solo summer dinner as fine as anything I'd make for company.

The food was sweet comfort in the midst of difficult family times. My heart is pretty broken at how badly my Dad is struggling again even though he was here only a month ago and looking and feeling strong and healthy. And in the meantime there has been news that several of our other family members are struggling too, despite everyone's best efforts to be healthy and do all the right things. Sometimes I feel myself going down that dark road where I think, what does it even matter if you try to eat healthy, exercise, and do all those other things that are supposed to be good for you? As my friend Kathleen says, you still have to breathe the air. You still have to live in this world and come to the realization that cancer doesn't discriminate. Cancer doesn't care what you do. There's no eloquent way to phrase it. It just sucks.

So tonight, I cooked my worries away, at least temporarily, and enjoyed the fruits of my labors all by my lonesome. I practically jumped for joy at the goodness, the vibrance, the sheer freshness and delight of this perfect marriage of flavors and textures: lentils and watercress in a watercress vinaigrette with asparagus and manchego, a squeeze of lemon and toasted walnuts.

I adapted this recipe a bit - it called for walnut oil but I used toasted walnuts instead, and I used french lentils instead of green, because that's what I had in the house. I can't take too much raw garlic so instead of a raw clove, I used the piece of garlic that I'd cooked with the lentils, which was nicely mellowed but added just the right bit of subtle garlic flavor.

It was my first time using watercress at home. I've enjoyed that intensely peppery green in salads at restaurants, but never ventured to use it myself. And never would have considered pureeing it as part of the dressing while at the same time serving it as part of the salad - it's a winner, to be sure!

So without too much more adieu, I will post my adapted version of this recipe from this fabulous, inspiring book, which I can't wait to dive into further. I will urge you to make this for lunch or dinner while you can still get good asparagus, and to enjoy it, if you can, with someone you love. I will continue to give thanks for food, for family, for friends, and for every moment spent being healthy and strong in my body, and I will wish the same for you.

Lentils, Asparagus and Watercress
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe in Plenty

Serves 4 generously

1 cup french lentils
4 cups watercress, thick stocks removed
1/4 - 2/3 c. parsley (original recipe called for 2/3 cup but I only had about 1/4 cup on hand, so that's what I used)
1/2 cup olive oil (original recipe called for 2/3 cup, but to me, 1/2 cup seemed the right amount)
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
salt & pepper
1 large bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), cut into roughly 2 inch segments
shaved manchego cheese to taste
toasted walnuts to taste
lemon wedges

Rinse the lentils and place in a saucepan with plenty of fresh water and 1 plump clove of garlic, peeled and smashed, and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, add a generous sprinkling of salt, and cook until just tender. This could take about 20 to 30 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, put half the watercress, the parsley, olive oil, vinegar, salt & pepper into your food processor. After the lentils have been cooking for about 10-15 minutes, fish out that clove of garlic and add it to the food processor. Blitz until smooth & creamy, and pour into a big salad bowl.

Once the lentils are tender, drain them well and dump them into the bowl with the dressing, and toss it all together while the lentils are still warm. Taste & adjust seasonings - you may well need more salt.

Steam or boil the asparagus for about 2 to 3 minutes, until just crisp-tender. Original recipe suggests boiling but I steamed them. I also think it would add another whole dimension of flavor if you grilled the asparagus!

Now it's time to serve the salad, warm or at room temperature. Add the drained asparagus to the lentils, and toss it all with the remaining watercress. Pile onto a plate or into a bowl and shave a little manchego over it, sprinkle a few toasted walnuts, and don't forget to squeeze a bit of lemon over it, which really serves to bring all the flavors together. Enjoy every bite, welcome summer, and then enjoy some more bites! You'll be so, so glad that you did.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Geez! It seems that now that I'm a married lady, I can't seem to get around to this here blog!

It's been a delightful couple of weeks of feasting and celebrating with friends and family. The truth is, I'm still taking it all in. We have the greatest friends and the most wonderful families, and I'm still completely blown away by what an awesome wedding ceremony and celebration we were able to have, thanks in large part to the kindness & generosity of our friends & families. The food was divine, the music outstanding, and the company could not have been better.

We had a pretty limited budget, and our friends came through BIG TIME, pitching in to take care of every last detail from the music to the food and drinks and organization and photographs and flowers...oh, the flowers!

It was so great that parents and sister came out and finally got to see the new house. I am incredibly grateful that my Dad was here & feeling good & strong, and it made me endlessly happy to make his favorite potato soup for him and the rest of the family.

There was much feasting, did I mention that? Some of the feasting was done at places like Venezia and The Lake Chalet, some of it was done at home. It was an extra treat to be able to cook with some of the food that was grown in our garden! A good time was had by all. We chose Venezia for the dinner the night of the wedding, suspecting that it would appeal to every last one of us, and we were right on the money. Classic Italian food done perfectly, excellent service too. And we had an excellent brunch at the Lake Chalet featuring not only great food and a stunning view, but a really good Bloody Mary, too.

The week passed way too quickly, and when it was over, there was a short honeymoon in Big Sur, a prelude to the not-so-short honeymoon in Italy that will happen in September (OMG! I FINALLY GET TO GO TO ITALY!!!). Big Sur was gorgeous as always, only much colder than it's been when we've been there in the past. But that didn't stop us from feasting and relaxing in front of the fire, nor did it stop some of us from enjoying a hot soak in the glorious outdoor tub!

All in all, it's been wondrous, and I still feel elated from it all, and ever thankful for this sweet life and all the people and places and experiences that make it so.