cool food for warm days

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. 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 veritable 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 down the street. Beer, ultimate frisbee, and pinatas carried us into the twilight, smudged in charcoal’s magic 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 law text book 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.

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simply soba

When it comes to food, I am really quite easily satisfied.  I love anything healthy, seasonal, and simple. I am enticed by brown grains flecked with hues of green. The bold tang of garlic frequently meets up with gently wilted leaves in bowls on my table. And unlike my last post, this one will be purely service-oriented, hopefully generating nothing but raving comments from all ye who enter its savory embrace.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but is not garlic the most universally seasonal of the aromatic family? Kale too is a cold-weather green, with leathery hardiness unrivalled among greenery. Think of it as the biker of cabbage family. It almost got me wanting to listen to G n’ R while I cooked. Almost.

This dish is responsible for the 2 pound package of Japanese Soba Noodles waiting patiently in my cupboard. They are the buckwheat darlings of the glorious noodle kingdom —  slippery-soft, done in 3 minutes, and can be tossed with just about any legume, vegetable, spice or sauce. Try them in stir-fries or as a carrier for your next back-of-the-fridge mash-up. Eating buckwheat shouldn’t really feel as glorious as this, but it can. Oh yes, it can.

And thanks to the hubby, my new favorite garlic companion makes six cloves of garlic a breeze. Yep, six cloves. Instant garlic love. No more of this sticky ridiculousness.  If you’re lucky enough to find one, do yourself a favor

There’s nothing to this dish. Set some tofu to press in the fridge before you go out in the morning.  Cook up some noodles. Bread the tofu slabs and bake or fry.  Mix up the noodles and presto! You’ve got a robust,  hard-core winter dinner companion.

When Axel’s busy, this will more than do.

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