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Sometimes you just have to let chance and mood determine what you eat. I’ve been reading more than usual lately. One of the books I’m reading had a chapter on foraging for truffles in the French countryside and the subsequent mushroom trade that goes on at the end of winter where the freshest most earthy mushrooms sell for what seems like the price of gold. The ferocity with which people go about this tradition must have inspired me to some extent as I hovered over the mushrooms last night for dinner.

Drizzle a mushroom with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Roast some peppers on an open flame and add a jalapeno infused cheese. Spice up some pita with Middle Eastern spices and olive oil and serve it up on a bed of braised kale. Simple, elegant with a flare of the Middle East.

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Why have I been reading so much? Well, for one, my parents announced to me that they have sold their house in my beloved home town and that I must come over to throw out or donate all of the things I was storing there, including my books, as my small apartment will not accommodate them. If my mom had waited to hear the effect of her announcement and subsequent demand she would have heard the sound of my heart sinking.

I did pack all of the remnants of my childhood. I found my footprint from the day I was born listed as Baby Girl, _____. I didn’t have a name yet. That I saved. Most pictures I saved (not every memorialized moment needs to exist into perpetuity). I threw out a lot of things, old notebooks, art projects, but the books. I just couldn’t do it. To me they are living breathing things and even though they exist elsewhere in the world, in libraries, on Kindles, in basements, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t even donate them. I tried to change my perspective, “I’m freeing myself of the burden of all these words and letting others enjoy them.” It didn’t work.

“Just look at this new translation of Anna Karenina.” “Oh Moby Dick, with an entire chapter on clam chowder.” “Shakespeare’s Complete Works. Hard Copy!” “Emily Dickinson.” “Short Stories from Pre-War Hungary.” I Cannot.

I had gathered all of these books over the years in the hopes of building a library some day. I wouldn’t say they define me, yet so much of who I am and what I love is wrapped up in those books. No matter. I had gotten them as far as the recycling bin and stopped. I threw one book in from the huge pile. I stood there for a while trying pick which should go next. Hoarders anyone? Until my dad rescued me from having to throw them all into the abyss.

“Let’s go for a ride. Bring the books.” Deep in the basement of his office building, which had never seen a flood, he told me he had a hidden stash of things that he could not part with. “We can hide them out there until you’re ready to build your library.” We loaded up the two big boxes of books close to midnight and heaved and pushed as the boxes ripped, to get them up the stairs of the office and down the stairs of the basement. And there I saw Clip Clop, the toy horse I used to ride as a baby. And my crib. And a double stroller, clearly from the early 80s, that my sister and I used to share. We worked quietly and quickly. We covered the books in paper and plastic and preserved them for my future library, but not before I rescued a few from their dark basement fate and began to read them again. And thus, my chapter on mushroom hunting and the inspiration for dinner.

With age, it is easier to pick out the false starts before they do any damage. I have learned to recognize my limitations and boundaries, and not only to constantly push and expand them, but also to honor them.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 portobello mushrooms
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 package of grillable cheese like Halloumi or a cow’s milk based cheese
  • 4 pitas
  • 3 tablespoons Za’atar
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 head of kale
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup water, chicken or vegetable stock
  • juice of one lemon
  • salt and pepper for taste

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Directions:

To roast the pepper: Apply the red pepper and jalapeno pepper directly to the flame on the stove on medium heat. Turn until black on all sides. When finished, take a paper towel to remove the skin and seeds Don’t use water it will dilute the flavor. Cut into strips.

Mushroom: Season with salt and pepper. In a small pan over medium heat, heat up 2 tblspoons olive oil.  Sear the mushroom on both sides for a few minutes, turning regularaly until soft and juicy. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and continue to cook until done.

Cheese: Add a little olive oil to the pan and grill cheese for about 3 minutes on both sides, medium heat until golden brown.

Kale: Remove the stems of the kale by tearing the leafy parts off. Put a little olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the kale. It will wilt down. As it does, add the some of the water or stock so it doesn’t burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir.  Allow to cook on low heat for about 10 minutes. Add salt or pepper as necessary. Squeeze the juice of a lemon. Serve hot.

Pita chips: Preheat oven to 400F. Tear about 3 pitas into large pieces. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle za’atar over the pieces generously. Pop in the oven for 15 minutes and voila, you’ve got your pita chips. Tasty and not fried.

Assembly: Stuff the remaining pitas with the mushroom, peppers, cheese and serve over kale. Enjoy with a side of pita chips.

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