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September 2010

Cheating Heart: Leftovers are an Easy Way to Improve Quinoa Salad

I make a quinoa salad just about every week. Santa Maria loves it, and she eats it for lunch almost daily. It's a tasty, healthy, economical, and easy-to-prepare dish. One nice thing is that it keeps. If you don't dress it, the salad will stay reasonably fresh for days. Make it Sunday night; finish it Thursday at noon.

I usually eat it once a week, but I need more protein than it provides, so I often pair it with poached chicken, or whatever leftovers I might have on hand. Yesterday, I was in a rush and I supplemented it with some prepared and marinated soy bars from the coop (which we almost always have on hand) and half a ball of mozzarella cheese. The salad is so low fat that I always need to add something rich, such as bag of potato chips or a half an avocado, to really feel full. The cheese did the trick. Like the soy bars, it was approaching the end of its usable lifespan, having lingered in the refrigerator for more than a few days. I was happy to eat them (part of my job around the house is cleaning out the refrigerator, a task I take literally), but I would not suggest it on a regular basis. It didn't taste very good.

Today, however, was a completely different story. I had a bit of the quinoa salad left in my office refrigerator, and I paired it with a real delight. Last night, Santa Maria was out at a business dinner at Community Food & Juice, a restaurant on the Upper West Side. She had the steak of the day, a slab of "sustainably raised Piedmont beef," she called it. Now I don't know if she meant that it came from Italy or from the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I do know, though, that she brought half of it home, and gave it to me. It was delicious. I sliced it up and had it, along with a bit of the restaurant's broccoli, with my quinoa salad. I couldn't have been more pleased.


The Chess Game of Life: and a Sole Meunière Recipe

Yesterday, a colleague of mine told a joke. He said that a friend of his recently had dinner with Garry Kasparov, and that his friend had a miserable time. He asked Kasparov to pass the salt, and it took him forty-five minutes.

This was on my mind when I went shopping this afternoon. I was planning on making flounder for the girls, and sole meunière for myself. My daughters don’t appreciate the sauce (in fact, quite foolishly, they spurn it in the earnest way that only a three or five year old can), but I not only like it, I need it. Flounder is one fish I would never make if I were just making dinner for myself.

I like a variation on the sauce—I skip the lemon, use white wine, and add tarragon, and I needed to buy the herb. It was late in the day, but I was confident that I could find a bunch at the Park Slope Food Coop. Pinta and I had just been at my nephew’s first-birthday celebration, in Fort Greene Park, and she was asleep in the stroller, having spent her time earlier in the day eating potato chips and cake when she would otherwise have been napping.

At the party, I met another dad who cooks. He said one of the things that drove him crazy was wasting food. He paid particular attention to shopping in a smart fashion. I do my best not to waste food, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to tossing out the odd bag of untouched but spoiled spinach more often than I would like. Wasting herbs, though, is one thing I can’t stand.

The sole meunière would consume about half of the tarragon, so when I picked the package up off the shelf, I thought of what else I could use it with. Beets came instantly to mind. I love them with a tarragon vinaigrette. So I bought I a bunch of those too. Now, at least, I know that the tarragon won’t shrivel, dry up, and have to be tossed in a week.

I’d like to shop better and never have to throw anything out. It’s a moral and a financial issue to waste food.  Unfortunately, I’m not very good at planning, and every time I try to do a better job, I end up like Kasparov at dinner. It takes me three-quarters of an hour to add an item to my shopping list. So I just buy what I need (or at least think I need), and hope for the best.

Here’s my fish recipe. I’ll post the beet recipe soon.


Sole Meunière

  • 1 lb fluke or other flounder
  • 1 cup flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon tarragon, or to taste


            Wash and chop the tarragon.

            Heat a cast-iron frying pan and add some olive oil.

            Put the flour on a wide plate and season with salt and pepper.

            Dredge the fish fillets through the flour and shake off any excess.

            Saute the fillets about two minutes per side, or until browned a bit on each side, depending on             thickness.

            Set the fillets aside, and add the butter to the pan. Heat it until it bubbles, then add the wine, and the             tarragon. Reduce until it is the consistency of your preference. Serve over the fish.


            Serves two.


Lunchtime Surprise

Pinta, who is three-and-a-half now, likes to say little sentences to me. At bedtime, before I turn the lights out, she'll say "I hope you have a good sleep, daddy," and, earlier today, as I left for the office, "I hope you have a good day at work." These are sweet gestures, but nothing is as sweet as what she did this morning.

She was up early with her sister, and Santa Maria had started on their breakfast. Pinta is still young enough to be a terror upon waking if she doesn't get food into her stomach pronto. She loves fruit, and would eat it all day if she could. Santa Maria handed her a small bosc pear, and Pinta turned it upside down, like an ice-cream cone, and started to eat around it as if she was licking a scoop of Van Leeuwen vanilla.

Pinta offered to share the pear with me, but I wasn't in the mood. I like fruit well enough, but it is a taste that came to me late in life, and a 6:53 a. m. pear is not really my thing. Pinta was undeterred, though. She asked if I would like to take one to work. I said sure, and she trotted off to the kichen to get one for me. Santa Maria washed it, and I put it my bag, along with leftover scallops and fried rice that I had made the night before.

I forgot all about the pear until lunch today, when I opened my bag and found the little treat. I think it was the most delicious piece of fruit I've ever had. I enjoyed it before I even tasted it. My camera is broken, so I drew a little picture of it on my desk, next to a reporter's pad. Then I gobbled it in about three bites.

Quick Summer Salad

With the autumnal equinox, which falls tomorrow, approaching, this is a fine time to look back at a summer meal. It also provides me with a chance to use a photograph I took a few months ago, which is a good thing because I don’t have any more recent pictures. My camera is broken.

There should be some lesson in how it was ruined, but I don’t think I’ll learn it this lifetime. A few weeks ago, we were on a little staycation at my mother’s house, and we went to Storm King, the sculpture park in upstate New York. Five-year old Nina and three-year old Pinta were entranced by the colorful enamel, swirling steel, rough-hewn stone installations by the likes of Alexander Lieberman, George Cutts, and Andy Goldsworthy. I gave Nina my trusty digital Canon Elph, and she promptly learned how to point and shoot.

The next day she continued to ask me for the camera and she took pictures of her feet, the car’s license plate, the neighbor’s house, bees on flowers, and just about everything she set her eyes on. I was overjoyed to see her having so much fun. It's a cliché that kids make you see the world anew, and it should be. Any parent who’s half awake can tell you that.

That evening, we went out for a walk, and I gave Nina the camera. She continued on her photographic journey of discovery, until she was slightly distracted by her sister, who had gone on ahead of her. Nina ran after her, and in her summer flip flops, tripped on the sidewalk, and sent the camera flying. It came crashing down shortly after she did. She got up with a slightly skinned knee, but the camera was banged up for good. If I were the kind of parent to brag about my kid, I’d say she made the leap from visual arts to sculpture in remarkable time. The camera doesn’t take pictures any more, but it is a kind of cool objet d’art.

I like this picture of a summer salad that I threw together one evening in June. I don’t remember making or eating it, but I’m happy to be reminded of it. The salad is beautiful, with its bright reds and greens. I will miss those cherry tomatoes come fall and winter.

It’s easy enough to figure out how to make this salad—toss together tomatoes, avocado, red onion, spinach, and some chicken—so I won’t include a recipe, as I normally do.

Instead, I’ll perform a public mental-health service, and link to the Defensive Pessimism Questionnaire. Defensive pessimists, according to the psychologist Julie K. Normen, “lower their expectations to help prepare themselves for the worst. Then, they mentally play through all the bad things that might happen. Though it sounds as if it might be depressing, defensive pessimism actually helps anxious people focus away from their emotions so that they can plan and act effectively.”

I won’t be giving away much to let you know that I scored as a defensive pessimist, though I certainly wasn’t thinking about worst-case scenarios when I handed Nina my camera.

Egg On My Face, or a Huevos Rancheros Sandwich Recipe

When I was young, my grandmother used to say to me, “The more you learn, the more there is to learn.”  I had no idea what she meant, but there wasn’t much room for dialogue in the family I grew up in, so I used to nod my assent. She thought I was a know-it-all-child, but I was just confused.

As I’ve aged, I’ve come to understand what she was trying to get across. And I’ve discovered something else. From a pop-culture perspective, whenever I learn something, I often get the lesson backwards. For example, I grew up on the Beastie Boys, and I once thought of all their funky beats, especially those on the landmark 1989 album “Paul’s Boutique,” as their own.

I didn’t realize my mistake until the moment, one day long ago when as a single man, I walked into a clothing store in the East Village, heard a certain bass line, and thought to myself “Beastie Boys!,” only to discover Curtis Mayfield crooning over it a few moments later. What song was it, that I liked so much?

I thought of this moment when Santa Maria made me breakfast on Saturday. We like to have pancake blow-outs on weekend mornings, but Nina was sick with a 102 degree fever and it didn’t seem to me like the right time for an elaborate breakfast.

When I told Santa Maria that we should hold off for a day or so, she was disappointed. There’s a saying that to eat well in England, one should order breakfast three times a day. If that’s true, Santa Maria would be ecstatic to be there. She loves breakfast, though mostly for one reason, as she has repeatedly pointed out to me—that it’s the only meal each day that we can all eat as a family. It is one meal that Santa Maria rushes to make.

Having taken pancakes off the menu, I needed to come up with a new idea. We had a pair of rather ripe avocados sitting in the kitchen, so I made a request. A few weeks earlier, Santa Maria wrapped scrambled eggs, guacamole, salsa, and cheddar in a corn tortilla and called it lunch. I really, really enjoyed it.  So I said to Santa Maria, “Will you make that egg and guacamole dish?” and she thought it was a great idea.

I was very excited to have it, and I believed that it was something that Santa Maria had invented. But she straightened me out when we were sitting at the table, guacamole dripping down our chins, and Nina laughing at the eggs and salsa that were falling out of my tortilla onto my plate. She said, “You’ve never had huevos rancheros before?”

All in all, not a bad way to learn a lesson. And I don’t think that young people today will have the same issues with learning pop culture that I did. The Internet makes access to all epochs of pop music almost instantaneous. For those who don’t know the Beastie Boys song, appropriately enough titled “Egg Man,” or the Curtis Mayfield single “Superfly,” the fascinating website has both of them, side by side.

Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Sandwiches
  • 4 eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • guacamole
  • fresh salsa
  • cheddar cheese, sliced
        Scramble the eggs in one frying pan. Warm the tortillas in another pan. Put the tortillas on a plate, top with sliced cheese, add the eggs and the guacamole and the salsa and enjoy. See below for recipes for the guacamole and the salsa.

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 4 shakes Tabasco
  • 1 sprinkle salt
  • 1/3 tomato, diced
  • 1 tablespoon diced onion
  • 1 tablespoon diced cilantro

        Peel and mash the avocado and combine with the other ingredients

Fresh Salsa
  • 1 tomato, medium size, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 lime, juiced, or to taste
  • 2 shakes Tabasco
  • sea salt, to taste

        Stir ingredients together, and enjoy


Someday, I'll Get to That

As a close reader (make that any reader) of this site might have noticed, I haven't be posting here very often these days. I'm still cooking, though, and I'll be back with a respectable regularity very shortly. I promise. In the meantime, here's a new cooking technique that I look forward to trying in a few years (or decades): "Researchers Create Nanostructures, and Whip Up a Recipe, Too."