Spring Farro, Asparagus and White Bean Salad


It’s the time of year when a clear, blue-skied day still carries with it strands of winter’s hard breeze. On a morning bike ride over the bridge, the churning Pacific was the color of jade with little white peaks. I returned chilled and rosy from the blast of air. A stop at the farmer’s market for eggs to scramble with dill goat cheese for brunch.

Beguiled by spring, I left my house later in flip flops only to have frozen toes after a few blocks. The best foods right now echo the hillsides: pastorally plump and green asparagus, grassy chives, crisp leek stalks.

I’m pairing this medley with Tenuta Rapitala’s 2011 Grillo from Sicily (via Bi-Rite), a wine described to me as “sea-foamy.” It’s tart with a faint finish of strawberries.

Spring Farro, Asparagus, and White Bean Salad

  • 2 leeks
  • 1 sprig green garlic
  • chives
  • a bunch of asparagus with tough parts from the bottom snapped off
  • Dino kale
  • a lemon
  • 1 cup farro
  • 1 can white beans like Great Northern
  • olive oil
  • Grated reggiano or hard Manchego

Sautée chopped leeks and green garlic in olive oil until the leeks start to appear translucent. Add some white wine if you’re drinking it anyway, and let the liquid burn off. Add chopped asparagus, FarroFinishedkale, and canned or cooked white beans. When the asparagus is just tender, turn off the heat. In a large bowl, combine the veggie mixture with cooked farro, chopped chives, lemon juice, some olive oil, and salt and pepper. Top with some grated cheese. Can be eaten hot or cold.


More Great Food Moments in Literature

Photo: flickr/Troy Holden

Flavorpill has a round-up of mouth-watering food moments in literature. In Moby Dick, for instance, Melville dedicates pages on the perfect clam chowder: “It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”

And who can forget Willy Wonka’s sweets? “Marshmallows that taste of violets, and rich caramels that change colour every ten seconds as you suck them, and little feathery sweets that melt away deliciously the moment you put them between your lips.”

Of course, Flavorpill’s list doesn’t begin to encompass all the great food scenes in literature, and if it was an attempt at the top ten, it didn’t quite make it. Here are a few more scenes that are worthy of consideration:

  • The Book of Salt, by Monique Truong: “Quinces are ripe, GertrudeStein, when they are yellow of canary wings in midflight. They are ripe when their scent teases you with the snap of green apples and the perfumed embrace of coral roses. But even then quinces remain fruit, hard and obstinate–useless, GertrudeStein, until they are simmered, coddled for hours above a low, steady flame. Add honey and water and watch their dry, bone-colored flesh soak up the heat, coating itself in an opulent orange, not of the sunrises that you never see by of the insides of tree-ripened papayas, a color you can taste. To answer your question, GertrudeStein, love is not a bowl of quinces yellowing in a blue and white china bowl, seen but untouched.”
  • Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie: “On the thali of victory: samosas, pakoras, rice, dal, puris; and green chutney. Yes, a little aluminum bowl of chutney, green, my God, green as grasshoppers…and before long the puri was in my hand; and chutney was on the puri; and then I had tasted it, and almost imitated the fainting act of Picture Singh, because it had carried me back to a day when I emerged nine-fingered from a hospital and went into exile at the home of Hanif Aziz, and was given the best chutney in the world…the taste of chutney was more than just an echo of that long-ago taste–it was the old taste itself, the very same, with the power of bringing back the past as if it had never been away…in a frenzy of excitement, I grabbed the blind waitress by the arm, scarcely able to contain myself, I blurted out: ‘The chutney! Who made it?”
  • Feast scenes in Redwall, by Brian Jacques: “The table linen was spread upon the orchard grass, with pretty blossom arrangements decking the fruit trees. Lanterns hung, ready to be lit by evening. Casks of strawberry fizz, October Ale, dandelion and burdock cordial and jugs of mint tea or pennycloud brew were placed in the tree shade. Scones, tarts, pies and pasties were there in abundance, alongside trifles, broths, oven-baked breads and delicate almond wafers.”

Oh, and the chocolate cake scene in Matilda? Makes you want to go find a rich chocolate torte to bury your head in.

What are your favorite food scenes in literature? Post as a comment.

My new Mother Jones articles of note

I haven’t given OATS much love over the past few months, but luckily, I’ve been writing about food elsewhere.  If you haven’t seen them yet, please take the time to read two articles of mine in Mother Jones:

And, good news for those craving delicious, simple vegetarian recipes: I’ve been keeping a list of some great stuff I’ve been cooking up, and I am going to make a big attempt to add some of them to the blog over christmas vacation. Just don’t get too mad if I end up making another batch of cardamom truffles instead (recipe to come).

A Day For Soup

Photo by Libby MacFarlane

The idea was rejoin at 8 for soup. It had been, after all, a thick, wet day made for thudding around in pajama bottoms and wool socks, a Sunday, the drizzle thin at first but then turning, after noon, into full, taut drops that smacked as they hit the pavement, creating networks of unrelenting puddles, so many that it had been a day to pull out rain boots too. After clutching ginger tea through the storm and making trips to several grocery stores, I had a pot full of raw vegetables, glistening carrot tops and leeks protruding out the top, so when I walked across the street, the woman who waited in her car when the light changed saw a hooded figure clutching a bounty full of dense green shrubbery exploding out of a witches brew-worthy vat, hurrying across Divisadero to her soup date.

Welcomed with flushed cheeks and candles and the warmth that emanates only from kitchens on such chill days in such high ceilinged Victorians, we washed first and laid everything out in its place, one of us taking photos because the carrots and the beans were just too radiant not to. Then shelling dappled cranberry beans, slicing leaks, dicing purple, orange, cream colored carrots, why wouldn’t one spend all of their resources on purple carrots? With their raspberry outer layers and sunset centers. Zucchini, the events of the weekend spilling out as we split sharp garlic into tiny pieces, a dream I had last night, the soccer game that was played one man down, making equal pieces of green beans through meditated cutting, puncturing the summer’s last tomatoes, readying them for their steaming fate, oh and someone spent a late October day surfing.

Spilling everything out, there were years when, pushing tomato juices into the pot along with everything else, when my relationship with food was far more complicated, and mine, sauté everything until it’s golden first, then add vegetables, then tell me what that was like, one tying a bundle of thyme, rosemary, parsley together with only a stalk of thyme is not an easy task, nor is running a race against yourself, but soup, so simple, everything melting together a little, the vegetables losing their edge, becoming less flashy and more mushy, becoming tempting and comforting and everything that goes well with wine and tea.

The last detail being torn pieces of basil, almond slivers, a little parmesan, the pistou, is that the same as pesto? It sure tastes that way. The week’s about to start, what a charming heap of flavor on top of the rich broth, a dash, the perk on your tongue before a deep nurture, no holding back, the conversation flowing up and out like steam, I am worried, that too shall pass, that will run together with other flavors, a mouthful of deep, soft, summer into fall soup.

Photo by Libby MacFarlane

Minestrone with Shell Beans and Almond Pistou

From The New York Times, published on September 28th, 2010

For the soup

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 sprig rosemary

3 bushy sprigs thyme

4 parsley sprigs

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium zucchini or yellow squash (or half of each for color), diced

1 carrot, diced

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 pound fresh shell beans like cranberry or cannelloni, shelled (about 1 1/2 cups)

4 plum tomatoes (about 3/4 pound), diced

1/2 cup thinly sliced green beans


4 cups fresh basil, packed

1/3 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup chopped plum tomato

2/3 cup grated Parmesan

2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.

1. In a large pot over medium-low heat, heat the oil. Tie rosemary, thyme and parsley in a bundle with kitchen string if desired (this makes it easier to fish out later). Add the herbs, leeks, garlic, zucchini or yellow squash, carrot, salt and pepper to the pot and sauté until the vegetables are golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Add broth, shell beans, tomatoes, green beans and 4 cups water to the pot. Simmer partly covered until the beans are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Discard herbs. Thin with a little water if the soup is too thick.

3. Prepare the pistou: Pulse the basil, almonds, tomato, Parmesan, garlic and salt in a food processor until basil is chopped and all the ingredients are combined. Drizzle in olive oil while the motor runs and continue processing until a paste forms. Serve the soup with dollops of the pistou, letting people add more as needed.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Corn Pancakes with Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Maple Balsamic Syrup

Think about a kernel of fresh corn. Imagine its coolness, its glassy surface and small firmness. The sweetest corn is just pale of butter yellow, so plump it wants to explode. You manage to wrangle it out of its dormancy within its stalk, shucking the papery peels into a brown bag on the front porch. All of the tiny tendrils keep cloying to the cob, refusing to relent this beautifully symmetrical art form to you. You finally get it as clean as it’s going to get, and you run your fingers down it because it’s as nice and easy as the warm evening all around. And think of the subtle pop this small entity makes when your teeth hits it; a tiny spurt of sugary juice, the crunch, the final realization that the tension of spring has finally burst and summer wants to melt all over you.

I couldn’t get corn out of my mind, succumbing to the smell of it at the farmer’s market or at roadside stands. My friend Ashly made a corn and walnut soup last week, and the taste of it lingered on my tongue for days. Tonight, I had to have corn. And Alice Waters had the perfect recipe for this cloudy evening. Taken from her cookbook Vegetables, the corn cakes offer inspiration for both sweet and savory dishes.

I opted for savory and made a meal of it. The fluffy egg whites made the pancakes soft and light, a perfect complement to the denser fresh kernels inside. Using fresh corn is the only option; don’t even think about canned.

After making the pancakes (see below), surround them in a bed of wilted spinach, top with crumbled goat cheese, and use a sparing amount of Maple Balsamic Syrup. Other options include topping the pancakes with jam, dousing them with honey and butter, or eating them plain.

Hot off the griddle

Corn Cakes (from Vegetables, by Alice Waters)

1 1/2 cups corn flour

1 1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

2 eggs

1 T honey

1 cup milk (soymilk works great too)

4 T unsalted butter (I only used 1 Tablespoon and the pancakes were still delicious)

2 ears sweet corn

Remove kernels from uncooked corn. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. On the stovetop, heat butter, milk, and honey until butter is all the way melted. Separate egg yolks from whites. Whisk the yolks into the stovetop mixture, and then pour the whole mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the fresh corn.

Whip egg whites until they form soft peaks, and then fold into the corn batter. Ladle onto a lightly oiled medium-hot griddle, making 2 inch pancakes. Makes around 18.

Maple Balsamic Syrup

  • 2 T Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 t Maple Syrup
  • 1 T sweet hot mustard
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne

Miso Challah Buns in the Sandbox

San Francisco can be crowded, snobbish, dysfunctional, and even gritty. Part of what keeps me here is that it is a city of secrets, of overlooked perches and un-mined corners. The most exciting moments of living in a fixed place is when small discoveries are made, and the city reveals another flash of its mystique to only those who are continuously searching for the new, the next, the unexplored.

Before I get carried away, let me just say that my small discovery yesterday was by no means new to many people living in San Francisco. But for me it was just the kind of discovery I needed to remind myself why I am still living in the city by the Bay.  I finally made my way up to Cortland Street in the Bernal Heights neighborhood in search of a new fusion bakery and was startled to find a nook that seemed utterly distant from the cosmopolitan clamor of downtown or the hipster rush of the Mission.

Cortland is quaint and peaceful and has more of a small town feel than would seem possible in a city of 700,000. To the North of the street looms the green slope of Bernal Hill, and to the South lies the crowded valley and green hills of Daly City and beyond. Quiet churches, carefully tended used bookstores, and charming antique shops characterize the sleepy storefronts.

Best of all, there are dozens of food options in Bernal Heights that I’ve never even heard of. From Italian Vinotecas, sushi joints, local bakeries and delis, cafes, and The Wild Side West Bar, which I’ve always been told is a hidden gem, Cortland modestly reveals that despite its old-school charm, it has much to offer in terms of victual pursuit.

Sandbox Bakery, on Cortland between Gates and Ellsworth, is run by chef Mutsumi Takehara, who garnered her gourmet touch from both Chez Panisse and Slanted Door. The baked goods are made fresh daily and in small batches. The reason I voyaged over the hill to find it was that the premise–a Japanese French Bakery–enticed my fetish for all things fused and hybridized. With it’s off-the-beaten path location and this unique mixture of cultures, I had to go see what Sandbox had in store.

What surprised me was that it is not a sit-down place, not even sit down for a second with your coffee kind of place. There are no chairs or tables, and the tiny space reveals just a simple glass counter with baked goods and a side counter with coffee accoutrements. Pastries included the normal French arrangement of scones and croissants, but what makes this place special are the Japanese-inspired delicacies.

After admiring a bun filled with red-bean paste, I opted instead for the savory Negi-Miso Challah Bun. Delicately filled with scallions and miso and glazed in Sesame oil, this made the most perfect flavorful snack that I will definitely return to. I also bought some gingerbread when I noticed that threads of fresh ginger were poking out of the rich looking rust colored cake. The “normal” gingerbread was just as delicious and unique as the exotic-seeming morning bun, so Sandbox proved itself to be a place for classic and twisted treats. Creative fruit tarts with goat cheese and bush berry or yuzu marmalade with sage definitely caught my eye, and certainly made me want to return for a second visit.  See their complete menu here.

Sandbox is reasonably priced as well; not nearly as steep as nearby Tartine (though I still claim Tartine is the best bakery in the world). My only qualm was the coffee situation. Why offer two different local roasting companies for the same price? Sandbox has both De La Paz and Ritual Coffee and they make each cup individually for only two bucks–I guess South of Cesar Chavez can really pay off–but there didn’t seem to be a need to split roasting loyalty for the same type of beverage. The decision will probably only end up confusing people and making newcomers to the SF coffee scene feel inadequate for not being able to choose.

I stuck with De La Paz’s rich silky brew and happily munched on fresh gingerbread all the way up steep Gates Street back to Bernal Hill. As I reached the top, the view of the lurching streets of San Francisco spread out before me and the sun shone on this Southern side of the city, reminding me why Bernal Heights may just be my new favorite spot.

Autumn’s Apple Crisp


In fall you must make Apple Crisp.

I did not always know this. As much as I rely on apples now, I was not someone who grew up eating them very often. I remember apple slices and applesauce­–segmented or resurrected varieties of the fruit­–but not the whole entities. I also remember considering apples somewhat boring. Standard, sweet, and forever the same. And then I moved to Vermont and realized that maybe, though I liked apples well enough and my childhood meals were comparatively well-balanced and healthy, I had never really eaten a good apple.

I learned the importance of the Apple Crisp doctrine during college in Vermont, where apples predominate the food triangle during autumn; they appear in barrels and baskets, stands on the roadside, bubbling in warm pies, and pretty much overtaking every possible cranny of the state. Every fall I would gather with friends and show up at Happy Valley Orchards, an orchard run by my friend Tommy Heitkamp’s family, to load Cortlands, McIntoshes, Honey Crisps, and Galas into brown paper bags.  We would peruse aisles of short apple trees and pluck the apple of our fancy off of low branches. Sometimes a bite out of an apple would reveal its inferiority and it would be tossed to the ground. You could eat as many apples as you wanted while picking. We climbed trees to get the most tempting fruit and sometimes a picnic would even take place at the roots of a tree, with brie and bread an probably chocolate.


The apple of Ms. Bullion's eye

The affair was usually a misty one, and on one occasion I remember dashing inside the small wooden commercial space to escape burgeoning drizzle. No trip could conclude without the purchase of apple cider donuts and a pitcher or two of cider.

And always, when we arrived back to campus with pounds of apples, their skins taut and still dewy, there was a Crisp to concoct. I have no memory of recipes being used; Crisps and Crumbles are nice because they thrive off simplicity, fresh ingredients, improvisation, and vanilla ice cream. A cold day and some fall colors don’t hurt much either. We would eat the Crisps by the spoonful, not bothering to separate the steaming dessert into bowls.

Now I am living in Northern California, a more temperate environment. Today was still and warm, hot even, and the evening could be enjoyed without a sweatshirt. And yet July was like late March in most other places. The skipping over seasons and then retracing steps and having bouts of summer during January, wintery days in July, autumnal days in August, and spring where fall is supposed to be definitely messes with my senses.

But signs of Autumn still make their way into the scene. The man who was selling strawberries and watermelons out of the back of his truck on Harrison Street is now selling pumpkins. Halloween decorations drape themselves over the elegant Victorian facades in my neighborhood (a very fitting architecture for Halloween, I will say). And apples have reappeared at the Sunday farmer’s market. Right now the Galas are still sweet but the Fujis are small and super crisp, the way I love them the most.

Back to where I started: Apple Crisp. I made a rather successful one yesterday, though the apples I used were picked by someone else. We stayed the weekend at the Goat Farm in Tomales (see “Grazing at the Goat Farm Gala”).  Just like in San Francisco, the temperature reminded me much more of early Summer than mid-fall.

In many ways, the farm was actually undergoing spring. A new layer of grass crept through the dead remnants of a dry summer and cast a chartreuse veil over the hills. Baby goats (baby goats!) ran here and there, cuddling up in corners of the pen or munching ecstatically on hay. In the morning, the sun slowly warmed away a velvety layer of fog so it looked as though the cloud dissipating from the barnyard was illuminated from within. Grass stood tall under an echelon of due, almost appearing electric in the slanted sunlight.

Autumn had also sunk its teeth into the farm, as strange gourds decorated counter tops and pumpkins rested precariously on railings. My visit this weekend had no plans, except that we were going to a barn dance (and we did), we would probably make an excellent meals (check), and that I wanted an Apple Crisp. As I sat down to make the dish, I couldn’t help yearning for a cold nose and flushed cheeks from Northeastern air. Hot apple cider doesn’t necessarily taste the same without at least a frost, and I worried the Crisp would be similarly unfitting for the warm evening in store.

Apple Lane

Yet one bite of the Crisp yielded complete satisfaction. The brown sugar, oats, and butter turned into a textured, tasteful topping. Different apple varieties melded together and offset each other’s distantly tart flavors. A dollop of vanilla ice cream melting rapidly over the whole affair prompted a predictable second helping. For a couple of spoonfuls, I was back under the fragile, fiery leaves of Vermont’s autumn.

Simple Apple Crisp

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8×12 pan. Chop 4-6 apples, preferably different varieties. Gravenstiens and Granny Smiths supposedly make great Crisps, but I used neither. Toss apple slices with 2 tsp of fresh lemon juice.

For topping, combine:

  • 6 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Layer apples into the pan and cover with the topping. If you want, you can also add some additional pats of butter onto the top of the Crisp. Bake for an hour, serve with vanilla bean ice cream.