I have forever seen recipes on TV and around the web for something called Mexican Lasagna, a giant layered casserole that contains pretty much everything we love and cannot get enough of — tortillas, beans, salsa, cheese and then some — but couldn’t bring myself to make one because I make bad decisions based on trivial things, such as the name, which made me cringe (must we blame the people of Naples or Mexico for the unholy ways we Frankenstein their cuisine?) and the fact that I hadn’t exactly run out of excuses to eat tortillas, beans, salsa and cheese yet and thus didn’t need to enlist another one. Don’t worry, Deb is going to see the error of her ways in the next paragraph.
Fully preoccupied with coming up with fun new shapes for my favorite cookie a few weeks ago, I went deep into a YouTube cooking show rabbit hole and emerged somewhere in France, where a twisted pastry that goes by the name tarte soleil stopped me in my tracks, and zipped itself right to the top of the Must! Cook! Now! list.
This was my first summer having a garden and it coincided with the summer I hatched a new human and the themes of both keep blurring together: The goofy pride in growing things from seed. The occasionally overwhelming feeling that there are so many things and they’re all very hungry and counting on you to fix this. The twinge of sadness as they look less sprout-y and more robust. The urgency to not squander any of this.
I am never a better citizen of the sidewalks of New York than I am when I have a newborn, or at least the variety we’ve been assigned twice now: those that can only be calmed by long walks in the stroller. And so we stroll, even though it’s unforgivably hot out, even though we rarely get out of the apartment early enough to enjoy those brief parts of the day when there’s an actual shady side of the street to hover on, even though we really don’t need anything else from the Greenmarket or anywhere else, we make up excuses so we have somewhere to go. On the best of days, we see people that we know and the neighborhood feels like something out of Mr. Rogers (although his is notably absent of the guy who yells outside my apartment all day about his superstitions and the clouds of secondhand decriminalized smoke we wade through). We bumped into my son’s old preschool teacher a few weeks ago, someone who likes to cook almost as much as me, and she said she’d recently made a big batch of caponata and had been having it with everything — for breakfast with an egg, in sandwiches for lunch and even with pasta for dinner and I thought that sounded absolutely brilliant. I just needed to learn how to make caponata.
Promise me something: The next time you see baby artichokes, whether in a 9- or 12-pack clamshell of indeterminate origin at your local supermarket or loose at your local farmer’s market (jealous, as ours won’t be here for some time), I want you to buy every single one of them. All of them. This is no time to share with the next customer or to be a good locavore citizen. Trust your local artichoke-obsessed food blogger on this one; without fail, they disappear for the season the moment you discover their awesomeness, which I hope we’re all about to do.
Every spring, I promise I’m going to share a recipe for chopped liver. And every year I lose steam, perhaps because there are probably few more divisive foods than organs, or maybe because my instructions on the matter are quite short: just make Ina Garten’s. Ina can do no wrong, and I like to amuse myself by imagining that I’m only eight bestselling cookbooks and three homes in two countries away from basically being her when I grow up. (Sure Deb. Okay.)
Within the great file of my favorite food category, Things I Can Put On Toast, I dare you to find anything easier to whirl up in the minutes before a party than artichoke-olive crostini, the terribly named but unmatched in Mediterranean deliciousness of feta salsa or walnut pesto. Lightly broil a thinly sliced baguette — and I vote for preparing a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, ready to bake off later, nobody minds — and voila: it’s suddenly a party.