my curry of solitude

“No more pencils. No more books. No more teacher’s dirty looksOut for summer. Out till fall. We might not come back at all. School’s out forever. School’s out for summer…”
~Alice Cooper

Yup that’s right, school’s out for Summer— and frankly not a moment too soon. I was quickly approaching my school year breaking point. I’m tired of remembering assigned snack days, helping with school projects, making lunches and yelling “hurry up we’re late!” on a daily basis. I need the slower pace of Summer; the laid back mornings, the swimming after dinner evenings. I need a break.

My parents had planned on coming to spend a few days with my kids the first week of summer vacation, they would all get some quality time together and I would get a few more uninterrupted days at the office. However as a surprise (and perhaps because they sensed my approaching breaking point) they instead offered to take the kids back to Connecticut with them for the better part of the week. “What do you think?” they innocently asked. “Are you kidding… They’re yours!” I said tripping over my own feet in the mad dash to get upstairs and pack their suitcases before anyone realized what had just been agreed to. Naturally the kids were just as overjoyed as I was at the idea of a week at Grammy and Grampy’s house. (It’s common knowledge that the rules at their house only vaguely resemble the rules at home. And when I say vaguely, I really mean not at all.) So off they went with barely a backward glance and off I went to enjoy the quiet of a child-free home. And blissfully quiet it was.

Flash forward 24 hours— My husband comes home and announces that he has to go away on business while the kids are in Connecticut. “Wait. What? Do you mean to tell me that I will be here all alone?” Yup that’s right folks. I was alone for 24 hours. Alone. Let me type that again… ALONE. It was wonderful. Sure I had to make the coffee and empty the dishwasher (typically my husband’s jobs since he gets up earlier than I do) and sure the damn dog killed another bird and it was up to me to pick up the mangled carcass; but that was a measly price to pay for 24 hours of me-time.

I have a girlfriend who eats cold cereal whenever she’s home by herself at dinnertime. Her theory is one bowl + one spoon = zero kitchen mess. I’m the exact opposite. When mine is the only palette I have to please I cook exactly what I want regardless of the prep and process involved. I pull out every pot and pan, make a mess and leave the disaster to be cleaned up when I’m good and ready. With this in mind I spent the “afternoon of my aloneness” (that’s how I plan to refer to these 24 hours when I think back on them fondly) mulling over what to make for dinner. Something spicy (of course), maybe with seafood and definitely the kind of meal the kids would moan and groan over. I ultimately decided to make a curry; a shrimp and coconut green curry to be exact.

It turned out to be exactly the type of meal an afternoon of aloneness begs for. A meal that made this “loves her family but not missing them one iotia and couldn’t possibly be enjoying the solitude more” wife and mother very, very happy.

Shrimp and Coconut Green Curry
This was a delicious dinner… and I was the perfect dining companion.

green curry

1 tbsp. coconut oil
3 fat scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp. Green Curry paste
1 tbsp. fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 sm. yellow pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
a handful of dandelion greens, roughly chopped
13.5 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. light Tamari soy sauce
1/2-1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. fresh basil, julienned
Jasmine rice, for serving
fresh cilantro, for garnish
diced chilies, for garnish

  1. In a large high sided skillet or wok melt the coconut oil. Add half of the scallions, curry paste and ginger and cook for 1 minute.
  2.  Add to the pan the garlic, shrimp and vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, Tamari and cayenne pepper and allow to simmer until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the julienned basil (adding it at the end will keep it green) and serve over Jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro, diced chilies and additional Tamari if desired.
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flexing my mussels

Around this time every summer my children spend a week with my parents in Connecticut, and while I miss them (stop snickering I do miss them) I also enjoy having a week free to do, see and cook all the things I don’t ordinarily get to. You would expect the overwhelming quiet, greatly reduced laundry and lack of sibling bickering to be what makes they’re absence feel so profound, but in fact it’s the little things. The way I can walk from the front door to the kitchen without stepping on or tripping over anyone’s shoes, the way a gallon of milk can actually last for more than two days and the way I can go a week without uttering any of the following phrases: “stop yelling” “would you like me to treat you like that” “leave the dog alone” “turn down the tv” “no you can’t play video games” and last but not least “go to bed…go to bed…go to bed…GO TO BED!…” Yeah, I miss them. Terribly.

I consider my kids to be fairly adventurous eaters (for an 8 and 4 yr old) and easy to please when it come to meals. Yes my daughter would eat pasta for every meal if she could and my son could live on turkey and cheese sandwiches; but they also happily eat things like sushi, smoked ribs, grilled asparagus, shrimp stir-fry, sautéed grouper and garlicky hummus without complaint. What they won’t eat is anything too spicy, which is of course exactly how I like things. So while they’re away enjoying New England I get the opportunity to throw caution to the wind and cook the spicy dishes that make me most happy.

Given the freedom to make whatever floats my boat is actually a bit more daunting than you would think. To quote the charming Miss Veruca Salt “I want the works, I want the whole works…” There are so many recipes I tuck into my “just for me” file that when the time comes to actually pull one out, its tough to narrow it down. I really want to try to replicate the spicy ceviche I had at dinner the other night, there’s a chicken vindaloo recipe that looks easy whose ingredients I happen to already have on hand and a spicy West African peanut soup that sounds incredibly good. But in the end the dish I ultimately decided to kick my week of freedom off with was a is a dish of spicy steamed mussels.

I have a weakness for mussels, they happen to be one of my all-time favorite foods. I eat them whenever the opportunity arrises and can’t eat them without thinking fondly of the night my husband and I spent in Honfleur, France so many years ago. We sat for hours at a little table alongside the Vieux Bassin in the center of town, sipping rosé and enjoying the sights, the sounds and a steaming pot of mussels in a curry cream sauce. It was sheer perfection. Honestly, if you know my husband or myself then you have no doubt heard our story of Honfleur. Perfection! However, as big as that build up was and as much as I love that classic French preparation of mussels, I love the combination of coconut, chilies and lemon grass even more. So the decision was made and Spicy Coconut Mussels with Lemon Grass was the winner.

It was delicious and something the kids totally wouldn’t have appreciated, which made it all the tastier. They’ll be home tomorrow and I’ll have to start cooking to please their palates again, but I’ll always have the memories of these spicy mussels…

Spicy Coconut & Lemon Grass Mussels
These are perfect as an appetizer or as a main dish along with a tossed salad.

mussels2

4 tbsp. coconut oil
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 stalks fresh lemon grass, outer layers removed, cut into 3 pieces and smashed with the side of a knife
1 tsp. garam masala
2-3 small hot chiles (I used a fresh cayenne), finely chopped
3 cups unsweetened light coconut milk
4 lbs. fresh PEI mussels*, scrubbed
zest of a lemon
juice of a lemon
2 tsp. Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
sliced and toasted crusty bread

  1. Heat the coconut oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add the onion, garlic, lemon grass, garam masala and chiles and cook over medium heat until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and mussels. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook until the mussels have opened, 5 to 7 minutes (discard any mussels that remain closed).
  2. Remove from heat and using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a large bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot. Fish out the lemon grass and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, fish sauce and cilantro. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce and/or lemon juice if desired.
  3. Slice and toast several pieces of crusty bread. Place the mussels in four wide bowls, ladle the broth over them and serve with the sliced bread.

*adapted from NY Times

*You should always try to use any fresh shellfish the same day you buy it. However if you have to keep it for a day or two before cooking here’s what to do to keep it fresh: “Remove the mussels from the mesh bag and put them in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel to keep them moist. (Never store them in an airtight container, they’re still alive and will suffocate.) To check for freshness, tap a slightly opened mussel on the counter. If it doesn’t close shut, toss it. Store them in the coldest part of your refrigerator. The mussels will release a small amount of liquid every day, make sure to drain this often.” —@NoshOnIt

asian inspired salmon burgers

I’ve already told you that ours is a fish eating house; sautéed grouper, grilled clams and mussels, stir fried shrimp and of course my award winning baked fish sticks. And while this pleases me, what would make me even happier is if my family would agree to eat fishier fish— ya know the ones loaded with Omega 3’s. Perhaps some sardines or a few anchovies, a salmon filet or even canned Albacore tuna once in a while. But the three of them (my husband included) all make such a fuss at the mere suggestion, that I don’t even bother giving a fishy fish dinner a shot. Sometimes I sneak a few sardines into my stir fry or add a couple of anchovies when I’m sautéing onion and garlic for red sauce, but the quantity is so small that I’m sure the health benefits are minimal. (Sigh) It really is too bad.

However much to their chagrin, I do find myself making more fish dishes around this time every year. We happen to be in the midst of the Lenten season and while my family does not prescribe to the “Fish on Friday” rule, I can’t help but notice that the seafood at my local grocery store seems to be at its freshest and best price during Lent. And who am I after all to ignore a good sale?!?

Some of my seafood experiments have been definite hits, some huge misses and some eaten and tolerated without complaint, but clearly not enjoyed. Sometimes it makes me sad that my family doesn’t like the dinner I’ve made and sometimes it delights me when they do. And sometimes… Sometimes I think what I’ve made is delicious and I honestly don’t care what the rest of them think— more leftovers for me! Which is exactly what happened the other night when salmon was $4.99 a pound.

I happen to love most fish, but boneless skinless sardines and salmon are two of my favorites. Imagine my delight when I walked into the grocery store one Friday only to discover that salmon filets were on sale for half of their usual price. (I was almost as happy as the weekend broccoli rabe was $1.99 a pound. Yeah, that happy!) Anyway once I drew the line in the sand and made the decision to serve salmon for dinner, I was tasked with the job of finding a recipe to win over my family of non-salmon lovers over. They all seem to like the flavor combination of ginger, garlic and soy sauce, so I thought that would be the way to go. And I thought that if I could offer up this less than loved ingredient in a much loved form, it would be more readily accepted. What does my family love? Well burgers of course, so I went with salmon burgers loaded with all the Asian flavors I knew they enjoyed.

The resulting burgers were relatively easy to make, cooked up in a matter of minutes and succeeded in finally getting some Omega 3’s into my families bellies. And what did said family think? Well, they all ate the burgers without complaint but also without compliment or request for a repeat performance. I however thought the burgers were delicious!

While I won’t force them to eat salmon again for a while, they can surely bet on these burgers popping up again for dinner sometime in the future.

Asian Inspired Salmon Burgers
I like these topped with a little hoisin sauce, a few slices of English cucumber and some fresh cilantro. They’re also fantastic on a bed of spinach tossed with cilantro, raw onion and diced cucumbers and drizzled with the homemade hoisin sauce.

salmon burger

1 3/4 lbs. skinless salmon filet, finely chopped
1/2 cup plain panko crumbs
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
3 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. lime zest
1 large egg
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. peanut oil (or canola), divided
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce (homemade or bottled), for garnish
English cucumber sliced thin, for garnish
additional cilantro, for garnish
5-6 sesame seed hamburger buns, optional

  1. Finely chop the salmon filet and place in a large bowl.* Combine all the remaining ingredients (through sesame oil) and add to the salmon. Mix well with a fork until everything is fully incorporated. Divide the mixture into 5-6 equal portions, gently shaping each into a patty. Place the patties on a plate and chill for at least 45 minutes.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peanut oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add the patties and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until done.
  3. Place a patty on the bottom half of each bun; top each with a spoonful of hoisin sauce, several cucumber slices, a few sprigs of cilantro and the top half of bun.

*The first time I made this recipe I used my food processor to do the chopping and ended up with salmon paste, it tasted fine but the texture was unpleasant. Chopping the fish by hand takes more time but it’s worth the effort.

*adapted from cooking light

Homemade Hoisin Sauce
You don’t have to make this from scratch, but why buy a whole bottle when all you really need is a couple of spoonfuls?

1 1/2 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
1/2 tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/8 tsp. hot sauce
1/8 tsp. black pepper.

  1. Blend everything together really well (I used a mini chopper) and set aside.

*adapted from food.com