New York City is a terrible place to summer. Whereas some water-bound towns have cool breezes rolling in off the ocean all day, we can better rely on the hot exhale of garbage trucks. Offices are set to roughly the same temperature as a polar ice cap, but subway platforms are so unfathomably sweltering that on my first day in NYC 14 years ago, I — adorably, like the wee baby New Yorker I was — uttered the words, “Is this even legal?” It’s a rare day that you don’t walk down the sidewalk and have a window a/c unit drip you-don’t-want-to-know run-off on your head. Flip-flops may cool your feet outside, but you may never recover from seeing the new color of your toes at the end of a day, and it always seems like everyone but me has Summer Fridays. The city tries, it really does, to make things more livable: the 14 beaches are free, there are dozens and dozens of free public pools, something like a zillion sprinkler parks, and you know all those endless photos you see of children frolicking in spraying fire hydrants? Hardly a symbol urban decay, it’s actually legal and encouraged. But the fact is that from July 4th on (and possibly earlier this year), anyone that has the means to be elsewhere is, and the rest of us plebes schvitz it out on the pavement.
Every time I make an Ottolenghi recipe, I become convinced that he has finally lost his mind. Really, turmeric, black sesame seeds and parmesan together? Three tablespoons of fresh oregano? A full half-cup of tahini? And as my anxiety grows — you see, I, too, understand the bubble of time, ingredients and trust that we invest into new recipes, which, when popped, leads to the kind of frustration that can only be righted with a scalding review — I wonder if this will be it, the day I finally make an Ottolenghi recipe that’s just plain off. And, without fail, we sit down to something so spectacular in a way I hadn’t even considered before, I’m in awe of his talent and relieved that I ignored every instinct not to follow his recipe faithfully.
I have been gushing in the margins about David Lebovitz’s carrot salad (pardon! salade de carottes râpées) since I made it for the first time four years ago. It’s exquisite in its simplicity, just lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of sugar, some salt, pepper, and rough-chopped parsley, all applied in that old-fashioned taste-as-you-go method that basically guarantees it will be perfectly seasoned when you’re done. (You do this with everything you cook, right? Yeah, I forget too.) And this week, as the carrots are towered high at markets, was the week I finally wanted to give it its due. But then I started thinking about that carrot soup we talked about in the early days of 2013, which we finished with a lemony-tahini swirl and topped with cumin and sea salt roasted chickpeas and how fantastically filling it was, a real meal in a bowl, and decided we needed a fresh spring-summer spin on it.
I had the strangest weekend. My husband went to New Orleans for a bachelor party and my in-laws insisted upon watching my son for one of the nights he was away. I was all set to argue that I probably could handle a single potty-trained, getting-himself-dressed, occasionally listening almost-5 year-old for all of 48 hours but when I opened my mouth the only words that came out were, “Thank you! What a fantastic idea!”
I have the most boring thing, ever, to tell you today (and clearly it’s not “how to write an enticing lede”): I tried not to eat bread for a couple months. Wait, come back! Let me explain. I don’t mean ever. I am not anti-carb or anti-dessert, nor is Wheat Belly our new idea of a good bedtime story; I am ever your gluten-full host. I remain certain that freshly-baked, crackly-crusted artisanal bread is one of the greatest things in the world; to turn it down a moderate serving of it when you’re able to enjoy it (chemically and all that) is a sacrilege. But that’s not really what most of our bread looks like, does it? Most often, bread is merely bookends on a sandwich, with the goal of making filling portable. Or, it’s toasted so that it can sop up butter, jam or a runny yolk, or crouton-ed to make a salad feel bulkier. It’s all too infrequently in and of itself noteworthy. These latter categories of bread were what I suspected I wouldn’t miss if when I challenged myself to skip them. That is, at least two meals a day: an ascetic, I am not.
My brunch arsenal, the dishes I’ve made enough times that they no longer cause any furrowed brows — a core entertaining principle here at House Smitten Kitchen (sigil: cast-iron skillet) — is as follows: bacon (always roasted in the oven, I mean, unless you were hoping to mist yourself with eau de pork belly*); some sort of fruit salad (either mixed berries and vanilla bean-scented yogurt or mixed citrus segments, sometimes with mint and feta); buttermilk biscuits; a pitcher of Bloody Marys, a bottle of champagne and a couple carafes of freshly-squeezed grapefruit or orange juice, blood orange whenever available; something sweet (our current favorite) and eggs. As I dictated years ago, everything that can be made in advance should be, thus pancakes, individually fried slices of French toast, omelets and even eggs baked in ramekins, adorable as they may be, are verboten. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and it’s always the worst.
Deep in the Julia Child archives, past the boeuf bouguignon, onion soup, jiggling aspics and the patently untrue yarn about the chicken that fell from the counter, mid-trussing, and was dusted off and put back into use with a remark about “nobody’s in the kitchen but you,” there are recipes so low in butter and bacon that they hardly fit the stereotype of French food as gluttony, as are thus rarely mentioned. A good lot of them are in From Julia Child’s Kitchen; published in 1975, it contained recipes and kitchen wisdom that came from episodes of her PBS show. Gentler to novices than her Mastering the Art of French Cooking classics, the recipes were probably more familiar to American audiences, things like leek and potato soup, sauteed chicken breasts with tarragon and tomatoes, and, here, a riff on deviled eggs that I am making my mission to rescue from obscurity.