Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lately, there's been roasted cauliflower.

roasted cauliflower with lemon

I tend to throw the blame toward anything but my own laziness when I've hit a slump of sorts. I haven't been cooking lately. I haven't been writing lately. I haven't even been taking pictures of anything lately. In the past, I've pointed the finger toward the weather, or wedding planning, or busy weekends away. Today, I blame my kitchen.

My lease ends on July 31, and ever since I decided not to re-sign, my apartment has become a disaster area. "What's the point in cleaning?" is my reasoning -- "I'm just going to pack it up anyway." Ha. Well, it's probably no surprise then that my kitchen is just plain filthy, not to mention windowless and dark and tiny and I only have one drawer about 8 inches wide and the floor tiles are ancient and I am so ready to move out.

It's really tough to cook in an unappealing space. A kitchen should be bright, inspiring, happy. A place to escape and unwind and create. Usually, I can make do. But lately? Not so much. No, lately I'm lucky if I can get myself in the kitchen long enough to chop a head of cauliflower, drizzle it with olive oil, and stick it in the oven for half an hour, only to scurry back to the couch for the next "Lost" episode on DVD.

And maybe cooking can't quite get me back in the kitchen, but eating certainly can. When a pan of roasted cauliflower, sprinkled with shredded Parmesan cheese and a generous squeeze of lemon, sits cooling atop the off-balance ranges on my stove, I find my way back, again and again.

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon
adapted from Simply Recipes
I am a strong believer that lemon makes almost everything better, and cauliflower is no exception. I first made this dish on Thanksgiving, and the fresh lemon was a perfect complement to the rich casseroles and gravies. I made it again and offered some to Murdo, who confidently declared, "I'll try it, but I won't like it." Add cauliflower to the list of vegetables I got the self-proclaimed veggie-hater to love.

1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1/2 lemon
olive oil
Parmesan cheese
black pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Spread the florets on a baking pan and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat each piece. Sprinkle with black pepper and place in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

When cauliflower is golden brown, remove from oven and sprinkle with lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. Let cool. I ate mine in a big bowl with scrambled eggs, then wandered back to the kitchen a few more times to pick at the leftovers. Yes, this roasted cauliflower is one of those dishes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leno's Submarine Sandwiches in Waukegan.

"Where are you from?" It's a common question asked during small talk and get-to-know-you conversations, when strangers are forced to find a common ground that will give them anything to avoid awkward silence.

Leno's in Waukegan

I would tell you that I'm from Waukegan, a town about an hour north of Chicago and right below the Wisconsin border. I'd tell you how the population was nearing 80,000, but we only had one high school. How our soccer team never won a game, but our rifle team was one of the best in the state. And that once I turned 12, I couldn't walk down the street with my girlfriends without a car horn hooting and honking in our direction. One time, to the tune of "La Cucaracha."

It's funny, though, that "Where are you from?" is one of the first questions asked when getting to know someone new, even though where a person is from doesn't necessarily say anything about her. So I lived in a somewhat ghetto town with an overcrowded high school and no Starbucks. I'm sure it contributed a small part to who I have become, but it certainly doesn't define me. No, I think a better question to ask would be "Who are you from?"

Because really, for me at least, it's all about the people. No matter where I am or where I live, who I am all comes down to the family and friends and people that I grew up with, and looked up to, and talked to and listened to and learned from. And where I'm from? That's just the background.

I think the same can be said about food. Take any hole-in-the-wall restaurant, for example. Maybe the paint is peeling and there's only two tables and the receipts are sloppily hand written, but who cares? It's the food that defines the place and gets people talking. And if the food is really good, the lack of impressive decor even becomes a little charming. Because here's this secret gem that no one would know about until they stepped in and ordered a sandwich.

corned beef + pastrami from Leno's

Leno's is one of those places, and even nearer and dearer to my heart than any other hole in the wall because it's in Waukegan, and even though I say that Waukegan doesn't define me, I'm still proud of the fact that this town makes a damn fine submarine sandwich. The bread is strong, the fillings fresh, and the dressing is just plain special. I'll go as far to say that it's the best sub sandwich ever. And I'm not just saying that because I'm from Waukegan; I'm saying it because it's true. Murdo agrees, and he knows his sandwiches. So there.

I do kind of miss the familiarity of Waukegan every now and then, but mostly, I just miss Leno's. So I guess it's not just the people who make up a big part of who I am, but really, it's the food, too. But I suppose you already knew that.

1826 Grand Avenue, Waukegan, IL
(847) 244-7320 ‎ · lenossubs.com

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sunday at home, with potato salad, green bean salad, and fried green tomatoes.

This past Sunday, I cooked.

It was the kind of cooking I haven't done in what feels like a long time, on the kind of Sunday-at-home that I've been missing during weekends away. I slept in. I woke up and puttered around for an hour or two. I washed dishes, I dirtied dishes, I washed them again and dirtied them again. I made simple foods, the kinds that are mixed directly in Tupperware containers and left to meld in their own flavors for a few hours, during which I would wander to the fridge several times from my spot on the couch to pick and taste. I left a fork out on the table for this very purpose.

potato salad

It's this kind of cooking that I like the best. No complicated recipes or long lists of ingredients. No rush, no schedules or time frames, no real purpose, really.

I made potato salad, not because I needed a dish to bring to a picnic, but simply because I hadn't had any yet this summer and I had this recipe and it was about time.

green bean salad

I made green bean salad because of this photo and this olive oil and because the farmers market was selling green and yellow beans for $1.50 a pound and oh my do I love green beans.

green tomatoes
fried green tomatoes

I made fried green tomatoes, just to try something new. I ate a few slices with scrambled eggs for breakfast, then left the rest on the table to pick at while I messed around with the salads.

I wanted to make up for all the weekends away. Summer is funny like that. I spend all winter and spring planning to get out and away, to festivals and lake houses and graduation parties, and once I'm knee-deep in warm weather and road trips, I start to miss the lazy weekends at home.

So on Sunday, I took full of advantage of my free schedule. I cooked -- slowly, simply, happily.

Fried Green Tomatoes
2 medium green tomatoes
1 egg, beaten lightly
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Slice the tomatoes into about 1/2-inch rounds. Set up a small station with the beaten egg in a bowl and the dry bread crumbs on a plate. Dip each slice in the egg to coat, then dredge both sides in the bread crumbs until completely covered. Add more bread crumbs as needed.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. (I kind of guessed on the above measurement -- be sure there is more than just a light coating and enough to really get those tomatoes good and fried.) When the oil is hot (drop some bread crumbs in to test -- if they sizzle, the oil is probably ready), place the coated tomato slices in the pan and fry each side until golden brown. Set on a paper towel to drain.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


i suppose i don't have to remind anyone of this, but it's really rough out there. and by out there, i mean in life. and in work.

when in just four days, you find out that your cat is suffering from kidney failure and that someone very close to you just lost her job, you start to feel a bit hopeless. vulnerable to the heavy hand of nature and economy, which is throwing punches from every which way.

it's weeks like these when inspiration and motivation begins to deteriorate, and the only thing that seems to bring comfort is a pillow and, if you're lucky, a shoulder.

but if you lift your head up long enough and really look at the big picture, and everything and everyone around you, you start to realize:

strawberries in the garden!

It'll be OK. Really. It will.