Through the winter months, I dream of warm food. There are afternoon lattes, tea, and hot chocolate, greedily assembled as my cheeks thaw out from the wind-whipped walk home. There are soups and stews simmering away on the stove. There are filling one-pot meals, spicy burritos, and steamy risottos.
And then suddenly, out comes the sun and up go the windows. Mac n’ cheese gives way to crispy wraps and salads of all stripes — the last thing you want to do in a hot apartment is turn on the oven.
But best of all, the outdoors once again becomes your dining room. From cookout to picnic, patio to porch, good food is more about portability than presentation. In the summer, I can say that about myself, too.
This past weekend I indulged. The last exam I quite possibly might ever write was over by 5 p.m., and half an hour later I was settled on my couch with Mark Bittman. Or his book at least.
I had an eggplant in the fridge and a dinner guest on his way. I needed inspiration. Seeing me paw through my cookbooks again, after an insane semester, must have been a rare sight: Mark (the other Mark, my Mark) pointed out how sexy it was to see me dreaming of cooking again.
By the end of my kitchen dalliance, I’d made a selection of tapas to share: caponata (eggplant salad), sushi-style spinach rolls, and this tangy, refreshing soba noodle salad. A few slices of crusty sourdough bread, some spreadable feta and black olives made the little spread into a feast.
We wanted to stay in all evening and let the rain patter outside the open windows as we digested. And so linger we did.
The next day, I added some julienned carrots to the leftovers to cart to a birthday barbeque in the park. Beer, ultimate frisbee, and pinatas carried us into the twilight, smudged in charcoal’s scent.
It couldn’t have been better preparation for my 10-mile “Mountain Goat” race the next morning. Good food in the belly restores the body. This weekend, I traded in my media law textbook for a long Saturday morning tea on my friend’s porch, my computer screen for a cutting board, and the gym for a game of Ultimate frisbee.
Productive? Not so much. But perfect in every other way.
Cold Soba Noodles with Mushrooms
serves: 4; time: 30 minutes
12-16 ounces soba (buckwheat) noodles (I learned the next day from my Bon Appetit that buckwheat isn’t a grain, but an herb related to rhubarb and sorrel. And, it’s high in iron, fatty acids, and vitamin B, to name a few.)
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water for 20 minutes; OR, 4 large/8 small fresh white or crimini mushrooms, boiled for 2 minutes, then drained
3 scallions, minced (I used organic chives from the co-op down the street)
1 T peeled and minced or grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup chicken stock, or cooking water from the noodles
3 T soy sauce
2 tsp dark sesame oil
1 T honey or mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine, available in the ethnic section of most grocery stores)
1 T toasted sesame seeds
- Boil a large pot of water. Salt, and cook the noodles until they are just tender, around 3 minutes. Drain (saving 1/2 cup of the water if you don’t have chicken stock to use), rinse well with cold water, drain again. Transfer to a large bowl and drizzle with a little of the sesame oil.
- Cut the boiled mushrooms into slivers and toss them, along with the scallions and the ginger, with the noodles.
- Mix together the stock or water, soy sauce, sesame oil, and honey or mirin. Pour dressing over the noodles and toss. Taste and season as you wish (more soy sauce, oil, or salt). Top with sesame seeds just before serving.
From How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman