Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes

Time is galloping. My thesis is plodding.

I have two days left in which to spit it all out on paper–or, rather, onto the screen. This is an internal deadline, but one that is crucial to my mental health. I have promised myself that, if I can bang out a serviceable rough draft by the time I make my presentation on Tuesday, I can take a couple of days off to reconnect with the world before I buckle down and finish my damn degree.

I started this blog five years (minus six days) ago, when I had been admitted into the master’s degree program in Food Studies at NYU. I was giddy, impatient and somewhat terrified at the prospect of being back in the classroom after 16 years. Would I be the oldest one there? Did I remember how to write an academic paper? How would I find my classroom? Had my study skills miraculously improved over the past couple of decades? Did I need a new set of crayons and a protractor? Would I ever figure out the newfangled computer systems?

It’s strange to look back at those first entries and glimpse an earlier version of myself. A lot has happened in the intervening years. I passed 40 and kept right on aging. I left my job as Executive Director of one nonprofit organization in order to lead another. I left that organization and struck out on my own as a consultant and teacher. I lost the tiny and impossibly sweet cat that had been with me since my early years in New York City and gained a bolder, fluffier model. I wrote a lot of papers. I took an unexpected departure into art and performance. I chalked up more than my fair share of learning experiences on the romantic front. I overcame my fear of public speaking. I learned that I could, in fact, love a second nephew just as much as I love the first. I broke an ankle and an indeterminate number of toes. I raised upwards of five million dollars. I made lifelong friends who may actually be more food obsessed than I am. I read so many books that the wall nearest my dining table is an endlessly rotating literary staging area. I took a few epic trips–to Argentina, to Paris, to India, and to Nahunta, Georgia to see a man about a grill. I finally mastered the poached egg.

Tonight I declared the research phase of my thesis over and got serious about writing. But first, I made dinner.

Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes

  • 24 small clams
  • 12 new potatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.
  • 2 links fresh chorizo, uncased
  • 1 large leek, rinsed and chopped
  • four cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (If you didn’t happen to reserve some chickpeas from the massive batch of hummus you made this afternoon, canned will suffice.)
  • 1 cup white wine or rose
  • 1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper (maybe)
  1. Sort through your clams, making sure that any that are open close back up when tapped. Give them a rinse and place in a bowl covered with cold water for at least 20 minutes. I added some cornmeal and a hefty dose of sea salt, but suspect neither is actually necessary to the purging process. The goal here is to get the clams to spit out any sand they may be harboring.
  2. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and toss the potatoes in. Cook just until tender and then drain.
  3. Bring a large cast iron skillet up to medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the chorizo, breaking it into chunks with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently. When the sausage has started to give up its fat, add the leek and continue to stir frequently. After a couple of minutes, add the garlic. If the pan gets dry, add some more olive oil. When the leeks have softened but aren’t yet brown, add the paprika, thyme and potatoes. Stir to combine, positioning as many of the potatoes as you can cut-side down. Cook without stirring until the potatoes start to brown. Stir in the chickpeas and wine. 
  4. Rinse the clams under cold water, taking care not to stir up any of the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Nestle the clams in the pan and cover. If you don’t have a lid that fits, foil will work just fine. Check them after five minutes, giving a quick stir to move any that haven’t opened toward the boiling spots. When all of the clams have opened (or you’ve given up and discarded that stubborn one), remove from the heat.
  5. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with some crusty bread to soak up the juices.

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The Lonely Thesis (A Cocktail)

It’s been almost a year since I’ve found fit to write something here. There are many reasons for this, some of which I imagine I’ll eventually unpack with a paid professional and a box of tissues.

I’ve been writing and I’ve been cooking, to be sure. In fact, I’ve been writing and cooking so much that someone decided that I should teach a course about just that. This past semester I taught a food writing workshop for undergraduates in NYU’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.

I also taught a graduate course on food manufacturing. In total, we visited 22 facilities, including Tortilleria Chinantla in Bushwick, where each day half a million tortillas make the four-minute journey from flour and water to bagged, boxed and ready to sell. We toured an artisanal chocolate maker just blocks from a large-scale industrial dumpling and noodle factory. We even got to see how the sausage gets made (literally!) at the Sabrett factory in the South Bronx, which produces a million hot dogs a day.

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But the single best class, at least in my mind, was the morning we toured breweries along the Gowanus Canal. Naturally, we sampled as we went.

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Stop 1: Travis Kauffman of Folksbier Brauerei serving up classic European-style beer 

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Stop 2: Joe Harer and Peter Salmond at Other Half Brewing, in the shadow of the BQE.

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Stop 3: Emily Elsen of Four and Twenty Blackbirds (A little pie to soak up that beer!)

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Stop 4: Jason Sahler of Strong Rope Brewery, a New York State licensed Farm Brewery

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Stop 5: The aftermath of the canning line at Threes Brewing

As you might have guessed, stop 6 for me was a nap.

The semester is winding to a close. I taught my last class on Tuesday. My graduate students presented their final papers last week and my undergraduates are probably procrastinating on theirs as I type this.

My graduate school journey is also coming to an end. After five years, the only thing that stands between me and the title Master is a heavily theoretical treatise on the place and potential of food in a museum setting. My dining table is piled high with books and articles and scraps of paper filled with cryptic notes. My limited social engagements inevitably devolve into me babbling about the ephemeral nature of food and the democratizing power of an immersive sensory experience. My dream life is simply a rehashing of the day’s research.

Naturally, I’ve been doing a little procrastinating of my own. Much of it has been in the form of ensuring that I am properly fed. For breakfast this morning, I whipped up chilaquiles verdes. Lunch brought Sichuan roasted king oyster mushroom and BBQ baked tofu summer rolls with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

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In a desperate bid to focus, I have logged out of my social media accounts. This means that, if I want to see what the rest of the world is up to, I am forced to stand up and walk across the room to retrieve my phone. Today’s feed is full of smiling people digging into plates piled high with nachos and exhortations to think about what Cinco de Mayo is actually about. (Hint: it doesn’t involve a margarita machine.) Me, I’m still in the sweatpants I put on when I got home last night.

But a girl’s gotta eat. Again. Having forbade myself from leaving the house until tomorrow’s sole outing (to the farmers market to drop off my compost and pick up more provisions), I’ve been winging it based on whatever I can find in the fridge. I just polished off a round of sausage, ramp and spinach tacos and a conciliatory cocktail. Imagine my surprise when I returned to this blog, ginger mezcal margarita in hand, and found that my last post, way back in July, was about…a ginger mezcal margarita.

And so, I offer you a variation on a theme.

The Lonely Thesis (a.k.a. Ginger Mezcal Margarita, again)

  1. Grab your retro fabulous 1970s shaker, the one your cocktail snob friends mock you for.
  2. Squeeze half a lemon into the shaker. If you want to be fancy about it, you could do this in a manner that strains the seeds, but I’m not even sure I brushed my teeth this morning. Fortunately, the cat has yet to complain.
  3. Dig out that exorbitantly priced ginger syrup you bought four years ago and, despite repeated and escalating attempts, haven’t been able to reopen since. Find some inappropriate kitchen tool with which you’re likely to injure yourself. Dig and squeeze until the cap explodes, sending black shards of plastic around your kitchen. Pour an ounce or so of the syrup into your shaker. Recap with some plastic wrap and a rubber band.
  4. Add a shot of mezcal. Add a little more.
  5. Fill the shaker with ice that’s taken on a funk that makes you suspect cleaning one’s freezer is a thing. Shake as best you can given the fact that you have yet to put on a bra today.
  6. Stack some more of that questionable ice into a highball and strain your cocktail into the glass. Top with some cheap bubbly left by a cat sitter, noting that it’s old enough to have lost some sparkle.
  7. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a liberal dose of existential dread.

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OK, back to the books. This thesis ain’t gonna write itself.

Ginger Mezcal Margarita

It’s been a while since The Drunken Fig published a cocktail recipe, which is not to say that I haven’t been living up to my moniker. The opening of an awesome beer bar a mere block from my apartment last year may have something to do with it. In any case, I’ve been feeling the bug this week. Last night brought a Watermelon Cucumber Margarita which, while just as pretty as could be, didn’t quite make the cut (though I did manage to guzzle it down).

Watermelon Cucumber Margarita

I’ll have to spend a little more time figuring that one out. I suspect it involves having the energy to dig out the immersion blender.

Tonight I turned my attention to that bottle of mezcal that’s been sitting on the shelf. Rooting through the fridge, I found some organic lemonade that I bought in a dehydration delirium at the tail end of Saturday’s very long and very hot walk to buy a bike. (My new wheels are on back order so, after a few glorious spins around the block on the floor model, I had to make my way back up the hill on foot.)

But I digress. There were limes left over from last night’s cocktail experiment. There was candied ginger from a recent bender at the Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights. There was extra spicy ginger beer because, somewhere along the line, I decided that it’s a pantry staple.

And so, I give you, the Ginger Mezcal Margarita, a drink worth repeating.

Ginger Mezcal Margarita

  • 2 ounces lemonade
  • 2 ounces mezcal
  • 2 ounces ginger beer – the spicier, the better
  • 1/2 lime plus 1 wedge
  • 1 piece candied ginger
  • salt and ice

Drop some ice into a cocktail shaker. Add the lemonade, mezcal, ginger beer, and juice from half a lime. Give it a few gentle shakes. Run the lime wedge around the edge of a highball glass and dip the glass into some salt. (If you have guests over, you could get fancy and do this on a saucer. I went for sticking it directly into the salt cellar. It’s that kind of week.) Plop a few more ice cubes in. Strain the cocktail into your glass and garnish with the lime and candied ginger.

I recommend pairing this with Let It Bleed, turned up loud. No dinner necessary.

Rhubarb & Kale Tart

Today was the launch of CSA season. For the next 22 weeks, I will swing by the artists’ studio/garage that serves as home to the Prospect Park CSA each Tuesday night, gleefully anticipating my allotment from Farmer Ted. This week brought green leaf lettuce, Red Russian kale, Happy Rich, Koji, scallions, breakfast radishes and a small pot of Genovese basil (which, my track record notwithstanding, I hope to keep alive long enough to make a few rounds of pesto).

Armed with the knowledge that such a bounty was just three days away, a sensible person would have spent Saturday morning sleeping off Friday night’s rooftop rosé and squid ink pasta with mussels and calamari. Instead, I awoke early and hit the farmers’ market. I told myself that, at the very least, I had to drop off the compost that was making it difficult to shut the freezer.

Squid Ink Pasta with Mussels and Calamari

Naturally, I forgot the compost, leaving plenty of room in my bag for a pound of bacon, half a loaf of French sourdough, a bunch of kale, some collard greens, a handful of garlic scapes, and a whole mess of rhubarb. (This is my version of restraint.)

June Farmers Market Haul

I hoisted my bag over my shoulder and headed toward home, pausing to say hi to Cathy, a fellow food blogger, and her food photographer friend. They asked what I had in mind for the rhubarb protruding awkwardly from my bag. Great question. I mumbled something about a rhubarb vinaigrette or a simple syrup for cocktails, both of which are fine, if limited, applications. But I had clearly purchased A LOT of rhubarb. We bonded over our mutual love or savory over sweet until I felt the siren song of my couch—and the leftover seafood pasta.

That evening found me babysitting my nephews, Wally and Hugo. Wally and I collaborated on a self-portrait, after which he demanded that I document his belly. (Oh, to be four.)

Bedtime was uncharacteristically easy, leaving me with a few hours to explore my sister’s snacks, my brother-in-law’s IPA stash, and the wonders of cable television. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday night, but did nothing to remedy my looming vegetable crisis.

Fortunately, Louis was due for Sunday supper and Monica, Sara and I had failed to polish off that hunk of cheese on Friday night…

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Rhubarb & Kale Tart

  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3-5 tablespoons ice water
  • 6 big stalks rhubarb
  • 1-3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch Red Russian kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 ounces Saint-André, brie or other soft, rich cheese
  • 1/2 egg
  1. Fill a cup with water and a few ice cubes. Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and work it in with a pastry cutter if you have one. (Rumor has it you can use two knives. I made do with a mezzaluna, cleaning it out with a chopstick periodically. A pinching motion with your fingers should also do the trick. The goal here is a pea-sized crumble.) Gradually add the water, mixing the dough with your hands until is just comes together but is not sticky. Scatter some flour onto the counter, work the dough into a ball, and the press it into a disc using the palms of your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for at least an hour.
  2. Toss the rhubarb with a tablespoon of sugar. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook stirring regularly until they are soft and caramel colored. Taste the rhubarb and, if it seems excessively sour, add a little more sugar. Add the thyme and red pepper flakes to your onions, cook for a couple of minutes, and then stir in the rhubarb and vinegar. Let simmer, stirring regularly, until the rhubarb begins to fall apart and take on a chutney consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Scrape the onions and rhubarb into a bowl, bring the heat up to medium, and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the kale in batches and cook until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Now would be a fine time for a nap.
  4. An hour out from dinner, preheat the oven to 400. Lightly flour the counter and rolling-pin. Roll the dough, flipping and dusting with flour as needed, until it’s the size of a small pizza. (You’re aiming for as thin as will reasonably hold together.) This may seem impossible at first, but give the dough some firm thwacks with the rolling pin and it will start to ease up. Gently transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and return to the refrigerator until your dinner date confirms that he just got off the subway. 
  5. Combine the rhubarb and kale and slather over the dough, leaving an inch or so around the edges. Fold the edges in. (You can get fancy with this by trimming and then crimping, but it won’t taste any different and, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re not a particularly patient person.) Scatter hunks of cheese over the top. Lightly beat the egg and brush it on the exposed dough. Pop this into the oven just as the buzzer sounds.
  6. Crack open a bottle of bubbly. By the time you finish the second glass, the crust should be golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes or so and then use the parchment to gently slide the tart onto a serving platter.

Time to open that second bottle…

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Anchovy, Ramp & Arugula Egg on a Roll

I missed the farmers’ market last Saturday. Instead, the morning found me traipsing around the city with a weekend bag full of sweatpants and vegetables, a backpack full of library books, and a giant platter from Murray’s Cheese. The schlep was well worth it, as it meant having the opportunity to attend a workshop with the luminous Sarah Owens, who just won a James Beard Award for her new book, Sourdough.

Sarah Owens Sourdough

(As should be evident, I did not make this.)

After class, I headed up to Grand Central to hop the train to Cold Spring. Beth was out of town for a few days and had graciously offered up her lovely home as a writer’s retreat. I was bound and determined to finish up my final paper of the semester.

Things got off to a slow start, owing to exhaustion and, possibly, the basil gin and tonic I whipped up with herbs from Beth’s kitchen garden.

Basil Gin and Tonic

Mercifully, Sunday was cold and drizzly, leaving me with nothing to do but plug away at my paper…

A Room with a View

…with occasional breaks to feed myself…

…and Oscar, who apparently likes cheese as much as I do.

Oscar the Hamster

By Monday afternoon I had a serviceable first draft and was headed back to the city. I spent Tuesday fine tuning my paper and was back at work Wednesday morning with a worrisome twinge in my lower back. By Friday the pain was hard to ignore. I knocked off early and headed to the acupuncturist.

Sixteen needles and seven small and rather tortuous cups later, my back was starting to release. Steve slapped a couple of giant stickers that smell like a combination of tea tree oil and Bengay on and sent me on my way with instructions for gentle stretching and heat.

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And so last night was an uncharacteristically low-key one. I met Sari for a lovely and light early dinner and spent the remainder of the night getting intimate with my heating pad.

This morning found me back at the farmers’ market loading my bag with more goodies than someone with a bad back should reasonably carry. I returned home to a breakfast of ibuprofen and an egg sandwich.

I have written about the wonder that is the New York City egg and cheese on a roll. More than once, in fact. While there is a beauty in the simplicity of this sandwich, today’s haul called for something a little more upscale. (The fact that I capped last night’s cocktail consumption at two undoubtedly helped in this regard.)

Anchovy, Ramp & Arugula Egg on a Roll

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 anchovy filets
  • 1 small pinch red pepper flakes
  • 6 ramps
  • 1 ciabatta or other soft roll
  • 1 egg
  • handful of arugula
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • pepper

Bring a small cast iron (or nonstick) skillet up to medium-low heat with the butter. Add the anchovies and smash with the back of a spoon until they begin to dissolve into the butter. Add the red pepper flakes. Finely mince the bulbs of the ramps and add these. Sauté, stirring frequently, until soft. Roughly chop the ramp greens and add these plus some black pepper. After a minute or two, you should have a coarse paste. Take off the heat and fold in the lemon zest. Slather onto both sides of a halved and toasted roll. Fry an egg over easy in the lingering ramp butter and layer it onto your sandwich. Top with arugula and the other half of your roll.

Anchovy Ramp and Arugula Egg on a Roll

This sandwich is best enjoyed from the comfort of your heating pad.

Lovage, Ramp & Asparagus Linguine

We are finally, officially sprung.

What should have been a weekend of paper writing turned into several long walks, a couple of impromptu movie dates, and pretty much the prettiest, most delicious cocktail that you ever did have.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Casa Rosada—a heady concoction of reposado tequila, Campari, coconut, lime, pepper tincture, and salt. Just typing this makes me contemplate hiking over to Grand Army Bar right now.

Casa Rosada Cocktail

But, then, I would have to get dressed.

Fortunately, Saturday’s farmers’ market foray yielded some flavors almost as delightfully springy as a pink flower in your pink drink…

Lovage, Ramp & Asparagus Linguine

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 16 stalks asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2″ pieces
  • 8 ramps, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1.5 cups lovage leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2-4 ounces linguine
  • 1 egg
  • zest of 1 lemon plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

Set a pot of water to boil with a hefty pinch of salt. Bring a medium-sized skillet up to medium-low heat with the butter and olive oil. Add the asparagus, starting with the stalks. Stir regularly. After a couple of minutes, add the asparagus tips and the whites and stems of the ramps. Cook for another couple of minutes, stirring regularly. When the water boils, add the linguine to the pot. Meanwhile, back in your pan, add the ramp leaves as well as the lovage and continue to stir frequently. Give your veggies a good dose of salt and pepper. When the linguine is just shy of done, scoop it directly into your pan along with 1/4 cup or so of the cooking water. Crank the heat up to high and stir continuously for a minute or so until the water disappears. Take off of the heat, crack the egg directly into the pan and continue to stir continuously for another minute. Add the lemon zest and juice, parmesan and more salt and pepper to taste.

Lovage Ramp Asparagus Linguine

This makes one serving. Scale up as you see fit, but know that this is a dish best served fresh. At under 20 minutes from start to finish, why not just make it again tomorrow night?

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