I love spring vegetables, but then again, who doesn’t? When green things that aren’t cabbage or kale start making their rounds through things like the farmer’s markets, good restaurants, and blogs (of course), we know good things are happening. And by “things,” I of course mean the prospect of sunshine and clear skies.
Unfortunately, I walked out of the house this morning wearing a hoodie, a rain jacket, and a scarf, so it looks like those prospects aren’t looking too good. It seriously bothers me that this is all occurring in the second half of May. I mean, it’s just not right! Halfway through April I was lounging in my swimsuit, reading books under the sun, and making big salads for dinner. Now that we’re almost to June, I feel like my legs are as pale (read: white, white, white) as they were in January.
(A slight digression: I was reading Camus’ The Plague awhile ago, and in it, the author implies that people who are obsessed with the weather are only so dependent on it because they fail to have any other interest, direction, or passion to steer the emotional course of the day. (If you’ve read The Plague, please don’t hold me accountable to any interpretive scrutiny.) I feel like Camus was doing some serious poking-of-my-ribs there, but I can’t help but think the weather is perhaps the most important thing. Well, of course besides the obvious and obligatory things like love and family and all that. The weather even trumps food, and that’s saying quite a lot for me. I could probably make a whole religion that revolves around the Sun—see how I just sneakily put the sun as a proper noun there, hehe? Actually, that sort of religion probably already exists. Whatever.)
Anyway, when I saw a big bundle of fat asparagus at my parent’s home, I was trying to decide between making an asparagus tart or this recipe. I think my internal seasonal clock was pulling at me to make this one, just because during this time of year I would ideally be lazing around in the sun all day and wanting something fresh and light for dinner. This is the type of food I’m craving during that time: fresh vegetables, cooked until tender, with a sharp sauce of some sort. This one is Catalan, apparently, and calls for tomatoes, red onions and capers to be added to a basic white wine vinaigrette. Topped with some herbs and a few wedges of hard-ish boiled eggs, it all tastes pretty delicious. And, with a good few pieces of bread to sop up all the vinaigrette that puddles beneath the asparagus, this makes a fine meal. This is exactly the type of meal I hope I’ll consistently be eating a lot of soon—Sun, please come soon.
Song Pick of the Week: If you’re in the sunshine, somewhere, 1) I envy you, and 2) listen to this song, Moi Je Joue, by Brigitte Bardot. Fun Fact! I first heard this song when it played during the Sofia Coppola-directed commercial for the Miss Dior Cherie fragrance. I watched the commercial, in a daze, and decided then and there that I would buy that fragrance. I know this is exactly what the ad-people are seeking to accomplish, and honestly I’m as anti-capitalist as the next person (or most likely more). But I knew I would love it! I knew it would be my fragrance—something I have been seeking to acquire for the past few years! And look, now it is. So thanks, Brigitte Bardot.
One Year Ago: Chicken Tikka Masala and a Simple Rice Pilaf
Catalan Asparagus with Salsa Vinagreta
Serves 4 as a main (with lots of bread, obviously); 6 or so as a side
2 pounds asparagus, woody ends trimmed
7 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2-3 plum tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, cut into wedges
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Liberally salt the water. Add the asparagus, in batches if you have to, and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Test a spear to make sure the asparagus is cooked but still has a little bit. Drain, and transfer to a serving platter.
Meanwhile, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt in a medium bowl. Once somewhat emulsified, add in the capers, parsley, tomatoes and onions and whisk again to combine. Taste for salt and pepper (you’ll probably have to add some). Pour over asparagus and top with wedges of hard-boiled eggs. Eat warm, room-temperature, cold, whatever; just eat it with good bread.
So before I even get started, I’m going to apologize for 1.) presenting you with two lemony desserts in a row, and 2.) presenting you with nothing but treats and sweets throughout the past 6 weeks or so. That’s a lot of sugar and citrus.
But this one is kind of unavoidable, both in making and blogging about it. I mentioned in my post on lemon bars that lemon pudding cake is my mom’s favorite dessert. I grew up on it, and it’s the only dessert I really remember my mom caring enough about to put in the effort to make it on a weeknight. It’s also the only dessert I think my mom would repeatedly make even after I took on the role of answering well and beyond my family’s demand for sugar in the form of baked goods.
And although it took me awhile to come to my senses, I can see why. If you haven’t heard of lemon pudding cake before, it’s thing of wonder. The batter consists of the usual suspects of milk, sugar, some flour, and eggs, but the eggs are separated and beaten separately so the whites become airy and meringue-like. It’s a very loose batter, and when it bakes up in a dish, a springy sponge cake forms on top while a tangy pudding with the consistency of thick custard remains on the bottom. Each bite has differing textures of pudding and cake (hence the name), and it’s all tied together through the bright lemon flavor. It’s really, really good. It also isn’t too heavy, which is wonderful but also extremely dangerous in how it makes you want to eat about 3 servings in one sitting.
My mom always used the recipe found in my family’s Betty Crocker cookbook—you know, the one that’s spiral bound with all the cheesy 80s-era photographs inside. Because I have a natural tendency to falsely believe that prettier pictures and more technical-sounding instructions somehow correlate to a better recipe, I tried about a year ago to upstage my mom with what she calls a “fancier” and not as good recipe. Of course my mom was right—it was fussier, involved butter and more bowls, and it wasn’t as good. Of course. So I’ve learned my lesson: this year, when I had the urge to bake a dessert and my mom’s eyes lit up as she suggested I make lemon pudding cake, I stuck with her Betty Crocker recipe.
These pudding cakes are perfect straight from the oven, after they’ve cooled for a few minutes. They’re warm and gooey and tart and cakey and everything good in the world. I sprinkled some powdered sugar over some of them (let’s not kid ourselves—mostly in the attempts to make the things more photogenic), but they really don’t need anything. However, if I were to add something, it’d be a dollop of this marscapone whipped cream. By the way, those lemon budinos—which I believe are lemon pudding cakes with an Italian name—are photographed so beautifully, and should convince you to try lemon pudding cake if you have any doubts at this point.
Song Pick of the Week is Halo. Because Beyonce is the most likely the coolest and most beautiful and enviable woman in the world. I know that song is old, and I’m not sure what threw it under my radar lately, but it’s got a real humbling feel to it that make me keep listening to it on repeat.
One Year Ago: Smoothest, Creamiest Hummus
Lemon Pudding Cake
Adapted from Betty Crocker
Serves 6-9 (small-ish portions)
I baked these cakes in a combination of 3 6-ounce ramekins and 3 12-ounce ramekins. To simplify things, I wrote the recipe down to be for 6-ounce ramekins or small bowls, but of course it’s okay to use differently sized bowls. Just keep in mind the cooking time: the 6-ounce ones require about 30 minutes of cooking, while the larger 12-ounce ones needed about 40 minutes. If you bake the pudding cake in one large casserole dish, that might take upwards of an hour. I’d go more by sight and touch to tell when it’s done.
Also! 2 cups of sugar looks like a lot of sugar. It is, but these are not overly sweet (and they’re really pleasantly tart), so I wouldn’t recommend messing with the amounts.
4 eggs, separated
1 1/3 cup milk
2 heaped teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 to 2 lemons)
1/2 cup lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place 9 6-ounce ramekins (or other sized ramekins, if you want) in a large roasting pan (I lined the pan with a kitchen tea towel before placing the ramekins on top, in order to prevent slips). Heat a kettle full of water on the stove for the water bath.
In a clean and dry stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until stiff peaks begin to form. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat egg yolks with a whisk slightly. Add the milk and lemon zest to combine. While whisking the mixture, add the lemon juice in a slow stream (as to not curdle the mixture). Add in the sugar, flour, and salt, and whisk until smooth. Add about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites and whisk in to lighten the mixture. Continue by adding the rest of the rest of the egg whites and folding them in until the mixture is mostly uniform.
Pour or ladle the mixture into the ramekins. Carefully pour enough hot water in the roasting pan so that the water reaches about 1 inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the tops are a deep golden brown and they spring back when lightly touched. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool for at least 20 minutes. Eat warm, at room temperature, or cold—it’s always good.
So I graduated from my university this past Sunday.
I spent a large part of my time at college thinking that “it wasn’t for me.” It’s been a little strange to kind of have this growing realization that I’ll never again be in a community that has so much support, warmth, encouragement, and opportunities as the one I’ve just left. I know it all had to come to an end, but it’s hard to get a grasp on the fine line where one part of my life ends and another begins.
And I don’t think that difficulty comes so much from not having my whole life (or even the “next step”) figured out, but rather from having a feeling of wanting to belong somewhere, or to something or someone, but being too scared to figure out which where or thing or one to choose.
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My school produces a literary journal every year, and there’s a student-written poem from last year’s edition that has been going around in my head the last couple months. This is going to be pretty damn awkward if that student ever sees this post, but I figure I should give credit where credit is due, so here goes: her name is Astra Lincoln, and she’s a very, very good writer. This is an excerpt from her poem “Peter Pan Syndrome.”
“& you were nine when the last of your baby-teeth fell out, and
this frightened you. you found a piece of loose thread hanging off
your baby blanket, and ripped it off. this was then tied around the
third tooth on the left, which proceeded to be pulled out and hid
beneath your pillow with a letter: ‘dear tooth fairey. i am scared
and i will miss your visits. i can not be without you. i heard you
won’t pick up teeth that were pulled, and did not fall on their own.
i hope that every night you come and see this tooth. i hope you
do not take it, but leave it here and check every night to see if it
is a keeper. it does not want to be kept, but it does not want to be