Last week I was a little worried knowing that James’s birthday was coming up, and he wouldn’t be able to celebrate with friends at school, or go on our planned Mexican surf trip. So I rallied our extended family to send birthday cards. Little kids love getting mail.
But I should have known better. Six year olds just need a little fuss made over them to feel incredibly special. It was a great reminder that keeping it simple is sometimes the best way, and right now, the only way.
Stephane took James on an overnight campout near the Westport marina in our “new” VW bus which was more than exciting for a little boy. While the men were away, I decorated the kitchen with balloons and crepe paper. The neighbors decorated our yard with a birthday sign. The mailbox was full of cards from cousins, aunts and uncles, godparents, and friends. And of course a few wrapped presents and a homemade ice cream cake. By the end of the day, James proclaimed that it was the “best day ever!” So take that, coronavirus.
I am sure you are experiencing the same: I turn up at the market with a list in (gloved) hand, and not everything I came for was there. So it’s a good exercise in flexibility and creativity. Last week there was scads of spinach, but no cabbage. Parsley, but no peppers. You get it…
Greek recipes this week!
With all that spinach, I took my friend Rae’s advice, and made spanakopita! I had never made it before, and she suggested this recipe from Maria Menounos of all people. I was a little skeptical, but Rae is a woman of great taste and cooking talent, so who was I to doubt her? I mean, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame is one of BFFs, so enough said.
The only change I would make to this recipe is that I would add a little lemon zest and/or juice for brightness. Also, the recipe doesn’t mention draining the spinach after cooking, but I did because there is SO much liquid.
Otherwise, it was completely delicious, easy, and impressive looking.
The other not-planned-veggie I came home from the market with was eggplant. In the summer I love to make Pasta all Norma, but I had a couple of boxes of orzo, so voila: Orzo all Norma.
I made this up as I went along, so this is a very forgiving recipe. You could add capers, olives, or a different cheese, like feta or ricotta salata. Shoot, if you can’t find eggplant, try zucchini.
First, make a simple tomato sauce:
2 T. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 t. red pepper flakes (use less or omit if spice scares you)
1/2 t sugar
1, 28 oz. can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
First, in a skillet or heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes , and season with salt. Cook about 1 minute more until garlic becomes fragrant. Add the sugar and can of tomatoes with their juices. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes, or you can opt for my favorite stress reliever: squish with your hands. Cook about 8-10 minutes, and then add 1 cup of water and continue cooking until the tomatoes fall apart, another 8-10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and you could add a few torn basil leaves if you have.
Next get the Norma going:
2 T. olive oil
3 or 4 small eggplants, cut into 1 inch cubes
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 ib. mozzarella, cubed
1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs
1 1lb. orzo
Preheat oven to 400. Grease a baking dish/ lasagna pan. Boil a pot of salted water and cook orzo a couple of minutes shy of recommended time.
Coat a baking sheet with a little olive oil. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on the baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes. Turn the eggplant about halfway through to brown on all sides.
Toss the eggplant back into the mixing bowl with the orzo, and your tomato sauce. Add the parsley and about half of the mozzarella. Pour mixture into baking dish top with the rest of the cheese and the bread crumbs. Bake 20-25 minutes.
James wanted ice cream cake for his birthday, and you can thank me later for sharing this SUPER simple recipe. It looks so awesome, and it is a crowd pleaser for sure. It will take you about 15 minutes to assemble!
Aside from calorie consumption, I have noticed a shift in the mood around our house. What at first seemed like a 2-4 week challenge I could handle, has become an indefinite reality. Missing vacations, birthday parties, work events, and just the mundane everyday takes a toll – on all of us. Of course, the more I read about the health disaster surrounding us in the the New York area, I am so thankful we are well (for now). But as the days begin to melt into each other, it is hard not to think of all we are missing collectively.
These two articles helped put a finger on what most of us are feeling: grief. You may find them helpful as well:
While we are down in the dumps, the loss of John Prine felt so sad. I have been listening to Bonnie Raitt and John Prine non-stop on Spotify. It has actually been very cathartic.
Continue to keep at it. You are doing great, no matter what your quarantine looks like. You are doing it, and that is all that matters in this moment.