Jan 30 2009

Székely Goulash

The goulash we had the other day was really nice. It is, incidentally, gluten-free. The recipe is from America’s Best Lost Recipes, a really excellent cookbook that collects “heirloom” recipes from families across America. Because every recipe has a story behind it, the cookbook is as much fun to read as it is to cook from. Székely Goulash, for instance, apparently “gets its name from the Székely Hungarians, an ethnic minority group in Romania whose name, Szekler, means frontier guard. They guarded the eastern flank of Hungary, which was prone to invasion because of its geographic position in Europe as a crossroads.”


The goulash takes a long time to cook but it isn’t really much trouble. You need 2 pounds of boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch pieces, patted dry with paper towels and seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, until the foaming subsides, and then brown the pork on all sides (you’ll have to do it two batches or it will just steam rather than browning properly). This is the most time-consuming step. Incidentally, I used to cut corners when browning meat until I read about the Maillard reaction and how important it is in unlocking the flavor of meat. Now I take the time to brown meat properly. This would probably count as my second substantial improvement as a cook (the first came when I started using home-made chicken broth instead of the storebought stuff).

Anyway, while the pork is browning, chop up two large onions (I used leeks because that’s what we had) and mince a couple of garlic cloves (or get them ready to be put through a garlic press, which is what I always do, as it yields a more intense garlic flavor). Once the pork is browned, transfer it to a plate and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot. Cook the onions until soft, add the garlic along with 2 tablespoons of paprika and stir it around until you can really smell it, about 30 seconds. The recipe specifies to use “sweet, not hot” paprika, but the stuff that is sold in the supermarket simply as paprika will do just fine.

Add the pork back to the pot and stir in one and a half cups of chicken broth, a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill, a teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and bring it all to a simmer. Also, turn your oven on to 300 degrees. When the broth is simmering, cover the Dutch oven and transfer the pot to the oven, where you will let it cook for an hour and a half.

After its time in the oven the meat should be just about tender. Pull the stew out and stir in 2 pounds of sauerkraut, drained and rinsed. You want the fresh stuff (from the deli or a vacuum-sealed package) if you can get it. Also stir in 2 teaspoons of sugar. Then put it back in the oven for another 45 minutes. At this point the pork should be really tender, and if it isn’t, keep cooking it. When it’s nice and tender take the stew out of the oven and stir in 2 cups of sour cream. Serve it with extra chopped fresh dill, and if you want, spätzle, boiled potatoes, or hot buttered egg noodles. We ate it plain and were very happy with it that way.

Here is a bonus picture of Robin with a little bit of goulash left on his face and collar:

Robin dirty

Jan 30 2009


I’ve been thinking lately about how much easier it’s gotten, being Robin’s primary caretaker. It was astoundingly, asskickingly hard at the beginning but it got steadily easier, and now as he’s learning new ways to communicate his desires it’s easier still. I mean, we have our days—especially when he was recovering from being sick, and wouldn’t eat much, and as a consequence was hungry and cranky—but his appetite is completely recovered now and so are his spirits. Oh, except that he still won’t eat bananas, which is a sad thing.

But a well-fed, well-rested Robin is a happy Robin, and a happy Robin is good company. Which is a lucky thing, because he is quite literally my constant companion. He sleeps snuggled up against me. He wakes me in the morning with kisses, pats, and gentle coos. Yesterday and this morning he gravely offered me first one foot, and then the other, expecting kisses on his toes which I obligingly provided. (“Oh look at those delicious toesies nom nom nom nom mmm oh it’s a very fine crop of toes today, thank you my dear.”) I suppose someday he will have to become accustomed to a world wherein his feet are not kissed first thing upon awakening, but that day has not yet dawned.

From morning to bedtime we are never far from each other. Even as he races around the park he keeps me in his sights, and toddles back to my side every now and then for a quick hug before pelting off again. He generally even joins me in the shower. He is my little buddy, my good friend, always wanting to help no matter what it is I’m doing. He is so funny and so sweet, and most of the time it’s easy, now, to be with him.

Of course this total intimacy won’t continue much longer. I’d like to establish some bathroom privacy at some point in the near future; and when we move into a larger space we can start getting him used to sleeping in his own bed. But I know that most of the separation will be at Robin’s own initiative. He’ll hit the normal developmental stages that lead him to seek greater and greater independence. He’ll be growing and changing, and he’ll reach a point where he doesn’t want to be always at mommy’s side.

But I, ungrown and unchanged, will be a little sorry when it happens.

Jan 28 2009

What’s for Dinner

A few things in the veggie box that we haven’t seen for a while: arugula, lettuce, and broccoli, along with the now-very-familiar kale, collard greens, leeks, radicchio, bok choy, carrots, and oranges.

Robin snarfs up the oranges, and I’ve taken to substituting leeks for onions in most recipes, so those will take care of themselves. In fact I already used some of the leeks in tonight’s Szeleky Goulash (a pork stew with sauerkraut). I’m expecting there will be leftovers tomorrow for lunch.

Tomorrow’s dinner: the recipes in the box this week included a neat-looking one for fennel and carrot slaw with Spanish green olives, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar, so I want to try that. I’m thinking it might pair well with arugula pesto…

Friday lunch: Robin and I will have the collard greens cooked with bacon. Dinner: bok choy and chinese egg noodles with spicy beef sauce.

Saturday lunch: salad. Dinner: roasted broccoli, kale with bacon and black-eyed peas.

Sunday we eat brunch out, but for dinner I’m planning a glazed pork roast with parsnips and onions.

Monday lunch: leftover greens-and-peas. Dinner: philly-style sandwiches with the leftover pork, topped with provolone and garlicky broccoli rabe.

Tuesday lunch: fish sticks. Dinner: lamb shanks with barley stew (aka Scotch Broth).

Jan 22 2009

Sign of the Times

On Inauguration Day I was going to the store when I noticed that somebody had gotten clever with stickers on the street signs, creating a new Obama St. It took me a minute to remember what that street was usually called, and I laughed out loud when I realized I was on Bush Street.

I didn’t have my camera with me and when I went back yesterday the street signs were restored to their normal state, but the Chronicle has lots of pictures here.

Jan 21 2009

What’s for Dinner

Thanks to everyone who expressed sympathy over Robin’s illness. I’m only sorry that it had to coincide with our visit to Reno. I think Robin managed to give his Nonna the plague too; I hope she’s feeling better!

Our veggie box arrived today: chard, leeks, collard greens, kale, bok choy, carrots, radicchio, potatoes, broccoflower, oranges.

Tonight I think I’m going to take a chance and adapt a recipe that Sam and I both really like—whole wheat penne with Italian sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach—to use the collard greens instead of spinach. We’ll see how the experiment turns out.

Tomorrow Robin and I will have bok choy for lunch, braised with garlic and served over brown rice, and for dinner I think a veggie extravaganza of kale (cooked simply with garlic and balsamic vinegar), potatoes (boiled and tossed with butter and dill), and broccoflower (roasted).

Friday lunch: fish sticks. And dinner: baked polenta with chard. I just really love that recipe. It’s my favorite way to have chard. I like to use leeks instead of the onion.

Saturday lunch will be scrounged from the fridge/freezer: dinner will be Fancy Sandwiches (assembled from store-bought olive bread, prosciutto, goat cheese, shredded radicchio, and balsamic vinaigrette).

Sunday we eat brunch out; for dinner I’m thinking chili mac, as an antidote to all the fanciness of the previous night.

Monday lunch: leftover chili mac! Dinner: steaks and roasted carrots.

Tuesday lunch: PB&J. Dinner: chicken, broccoli, and ziti casserole.

Jan 20 2009

A Horrible Night

Our visit to Reno last weekend was marred by illness: Robin caught the stomach bug I mentioned in my last post. We’d given him a couple bananas in the car, and we first became aware that he was sick when he vomited banana all over himself and his carseat. We pulled over and cleaned him up.

About ten miles later, the second banana came up.

We were in the middle of a mountain pass and we decided the best thing we could do for him was continue on to his grandparents’ house. So I sat in the backseat as he continued to vomit every ten minutes, doing my best to comfort him and to contain the mess. By the time we arrived he was only bringing up stomach acid, but he continued to be shaken by retching spells.

At his Pappy and Nonna’s house Robin actually seemed pretty happy: there were doggies to pat, Christmas presents to discover, and of course his grandparents and his auntie to play with. We followed him around with a towel and the vomiting seemed to ease up a bit, going from every ten minutes to maybe every twenty. In the meantime he was perfectly happy to explore and to play, but it became obvious that he was pretty worn out. The grandparents wanted to take us out to dinner and to do some more visiting, but I was worried about him and insisted on taking him back to our hotel room so he could rest. When I set him down on the bed, he dropped over like a felled tree and went immediately to sleep.

Unfortunately, he woke up twenty minutes later to puke. He went straight back to sleep afterwards, but the pattern continued throughout the night. Sam is slow to wake so I was the one who tended to him during these episodes, and it was awful. I was so worried about him and I felt so helpless; and of course I was exhausted too since I’d just recovered from the same sickness. The brief periods of sleep and the many episodes of waking to hold a towel under his chin blurred together into one nightmarish moment that seemed like it would never end. I remember glancing over the at the clock woozily at one point and seeing that it was only 12:30; it felt like ten hours had already passed, and I distinctly thought to myself, “This is exactly what Hell would be like.”

The very worst part of the night came at 3 AM when Robin started getting dehydrated and asking for water (not with words; he just points in the direction of things he wants and adopts an insistive tone with his usual syllables: “buh! guh!”). We gave him water, he drank it thirstily, but it came right back up. Here is another thing that everybody already knows: it is incredibly hard to watch your child suffering when there is nothing you can do to help.

I was resolved to take Robin to the hospital as soon as the sun came up, but around 5 AM something remarkable happened: Robin woke up, vomited, had a drink, went back to sleep…and then didn’t wake up again for an hour and a half. And even then he didn’t throw up, he just wanted to nurse.

And as morning finally came I was filled with an immense gratitude: I turned blissfully to Sam and I said, “The sun’s up, my baby’s not vomiting, and Obama’s going to be president.”

Robin’s stomach was still a little touchy for the rest of the weekend; he wouldn’t eat much solid food, but we kept him hydrated and he was at least willing to nurse. He’s been resting more than usual, and his appetite seems to be recovering. Last night we got him to eat some french fries, and this morning he took in a little bit of oatmeal. Right now he’s pulling a bunch of Saltines out from their box, taking a single bite from each, and placing them each on the seat of Sam’s chair. I feel pretty okay about this. At least the sun’s up, my baby’s not vomiting, and Obama is president.

Jan 16 2009

Something About Elmo, Part 2

I’ve figured out when Sesame Street comes on, and I let Robin watch it every day, because he loves it and I can’t quite believe that Sesame Street could be bad for him. They always have an “Elmo’s World” segment, and whenever it comes on Robin has to run and find his Elmo doll. Then he stands there in front of the TV, hugging Elmo, enraptured. It’s a little weird, but also cute.

Today I’m sick with some kind of stomach bug. I’ve been taking my temperature periodically; well, Robin got a hold of the thermometer (don’t worry, it’s the digital kind, not glass) and what did he do with it? He took Elmo’s temperature.

Jan 15 2009

What’s for Dinner

Well, you can probably guess what was in our veggie box this week. Collard greens, kale, chard (but gold chard! that’s a nice change of pace!), leeks, bok choy, broccoflower, radicchio, carrots, oranges, potatoes. Yep, local and seasonal eating means sacrificing some variety in our foodstuffs. But unlike our forefathers, I have the privilege of supplementing with things from the grocery store!

I cooked the radicchio last night in that fettucine recipe: Sam liked it better than I did. He’s very enthusiastic about pasta in all forms. Oh, and I should say, the North African Bean and Squash Stew came out really well. I was able to find what I think is muhammas (“giant pearl” or “Israeli”) couscous at the grocery store, so I used that instead of the vermicelli, and I substituted leeks for the onion. Also I left out the cayenne pepper because Robin and I are spice wimps. But I love cilantro and it really adds a nice bright flavor to the stew. Here’s a picture:

Coinkydinkally, the recipes tucked into the box this week included one that called for couscous (Orange Kale Couscous), so I made that for lunch and I’m eating it RIGHT NOW AS I TYPE. I was more excited that the recipe included a link to a blog, csadelivery.blogspot.com, where Katie DeGraff details what she does with her veggie box. I can’t really explain why I’m so fascinated by what other people are eating, but I am. Maybe it’s because I’m an ethnobotanist’s daughter.

On our vegetables, this week, I’m going to punt. I’m going to use most of them—the broccoflower, the collard greens, the leeks, the carrots—making stocks. It seems kind of wasteful but we’re going down to Reno this weekend to see Pappy and Nonna, so we’re not going to be here for a few days to eat all these veggies, and I don’t want them to go bad. Plus I’m out of home-made stock; I’ve been buying it from the grocery store and I can really taste the difference in my recipes.

Here’s the plan:

Tonight I’ll buy a chicken and roast it with the potatoes. I’ll also buy a couple of steaks and put them in the fridge so that I don’t have to go to the store tomorrow.

Tomorrow I’ll use the chicken bones to make a chicken stock, and the veggies to make a vegetable stock. For dinner I’ll make the steaks (quick, easy) along with creamed chard.

Saturday we’re going to Reno and we won’t be back until Monday. I’m going to assume that we’ll get dinner on the road, although if we’re back in time I’ll make a hot and sour soup with bok choy using the ingredients I’ll have in the fridge. Otherwise I’ll make the soup on Tuesday.

Jan 13 2009


Sorry for the crummy video quality; we’d been playing with Robin for a while and he seemed distracted when I got out the camera, so I was afraid he’d stop the game if I took the time to, you know, focus. I almost wasn’t going to post this because it’s so fuzzy, but Sam told me I was crazy and that y’all would love to see it. So here you go.

Jan 8 2009

Will The Person(s) Who Sent Us the Amaryllis Please Step Forward

We just received a lovely red amaryllis plant via Fed Ex, in a silver pot, and it’s very beautiful in every way except that I don’t know where to send a thank-you note! I scoured the packaging and I can’t find any indication of who sent the gift! It seems to be sent from within California but I can’t find a note or name attached.

I’m worried now because we actually sent similar gifts to a couple of our loved ones. Is this a “return address” sort of thing? Is there somebody out there who didn’t get their amaryllis? Or is this our amaryllis to be watered and cherished and placed in indirect sunlight? Please do say!