My father has a favorite saying that I try my best to remember when times are tough: fight back with normal life (his other favorite saying is “silliness is next to Godliness.” I try to remember that one, too). Meaning that when things are feeling impossible, one of the most healing things we can do is to try our darndest to keep on keeping on. And more than that, to try and relish all of the small and beautiful things that we’re lucky enough to have make up our “normal” lives. So, for example, when things happen that make your world feel sideways, but you are also lucky enough to live with a handsome man who will make you a stiff drink while you watch DVR’d episodes of the Mindy Project…you should let that handsome man make you a stiff drink. And then watch Mindy.
I didn’t understand why people were lined up to pay $5 for two pieces of ham on white bread. It was my first ever trip to the Apple & Pork Festival in Clinton, Illinois, and I was surprised to see dozens of adults passing up brats and ribs and tenderloins for a plain Jane ham sandwich. Just when I was about to write off the palates of Central Illinois, I passed a wooden shack with a tiny sign: “Ham House.” The door was hanging open and through plumes of smoke I could see shelves of string-tied, sliced hams. Now I understood the draw: real, fresh smoked ham. A man bearing a ham appeared, rearranged his products in the shack, and latched the door shut. He saw me snapping a few photos and asked, “get what you need?” I said yes and turned around to get in line for a sandwich.
I finally found a delicious use for my box of Spanish smoked sweet paprika (Pimentón de la Vera dulce). I bought it when I purchased Spanish smoked hot paprika for this irresistible roasted chicken recipe, thinking that Spanish smoked paprikas were all the rage and I’d use it up lickety-split. I was right about the hot paprika, which is nearly gone, but the sweet stuff just sat in my spice collection in DC, unused and unloved. Then it sat untouched in Boston. Now that it’s in its third home, I am determined to use it before it loses its potency.
As of September 6th, we’ve been blogging here together for two years. They’ve been a huge two years in our personal lives (engagements, marriage, moves, career changes), and it’s been great to have this creative and grounding outlet to return to. We’ve both tried out new techniques, mastered new recipes, and found new inspiration. While this shared project has been a great excuse to push ourselves to cook new things, there are of course those recipes we come back to again and again. We thought we’d share some favorite regulars in our kitchen routines, along with a few things the men in our lives wish we cooked more often. We’d love to hear what you cook most often, too!
I had a nice cooking challenge earlier this week: make a dairy free dessert. Molly was coming over for dinner to talk wedding flowers (!), and mentioned in passing that she was trying to cut down on dairy these days. Since I had coincidentally already picked out a dairy free dinner to make, I decided to stick with the trend and hunt up something sweet without dairy to end the meal. I searched through my cookbooks, realized butter is in dang near everything, and then found my answer in Ina Garten’s beautiful Barefoot in Paris (especially perfect, since I visited Molly in Paris during her semester abroad): peaches in Sauternes. With just four ingredients and a little soaking time I had an elegant dessert highlighting fresh summer peaches, with nary a dairy in sight. It was cool, colorful, full of fancy feeling flavor, and simple as could be. Ina always knows.
There is no shortage of corn here in central Illinois. Fields of it run along the highways and border the strip malls, car dealerships, and housing developments (including ours). My guess is that the biggest fields are growing Big Ag corn, but there are a few farmers around Springfield who harvest their crop for hungry locals. In fact, a dusty farmer straight from central casting sold me a dozen ears of his “peaches and cream” corn last week. He told me it was the sweetest corn I’d ever eat. He wasn’t lying. The kernels were so juicy and sugary that I knew they’d be perfect for sweet corn “polenta,” a puree that’s made of superstar fresh corn.
The last long weekend of summer is here, just in time for this sweet and juicy variation on a caprese salad. Melon, cucumbers, and a tangle of arugula have replaced the tomatoes, but the classic version’s fresh mozzarella and basil are still key to this salad’s success. The flavors are subtle and refreshing, a perfect complement to summer’s salty grilled meats.