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.

winging it

The most highly anticipated day of any football lovers year is right around the corner. Frankly, I don’t like football. However I realize I’m in the minority, particularly this year since the Super Bowl happens to be taking place about five miles from my house.

It seems to me that Super Bowl Sunday has very little to actually do with football and a lot to do with Clydesdale commercials, half-time wardrobe malfunctions and trashy food you would never ordinarily consider eating. You know the kind I’m talking about— bowls of melted velveeta and salsa served with Fritos (hmm, who knew they still made Fritos?) piping hot pizza bites and mini hot dogs (I’m sure there’s not that much MSG in them, right?) and of course deep-fried wings with a side of bottled blue cheese dressing (limp celery stalks optional). But before you get the wrong impression here’s the thing… I happen to like wings. In fact there’s a coal-fired pizza joint nearby that makes the most delicious caramelized onion and rosemary wings that I like to order with a side salad. So you see it’s not the wing itself I take issue with, it’s the prepackaged, deep-fried, preservative laden aspect of your typical trashy wings I dislike. If I’m going to eat a wing I want some thought to have gone into it, some consideration for the flavors in combination with the cooking method. I want someone to have given that wing a little love long before it ever hits my plate.

While I don’t have a coal-fired pizza oven, I do have a gas grill and a Weber cookbook, which as it turns out is all I really need. A few pounds of wings, some Asian ingredients, a little grill time and voilà… Delicious without apology wings. I realize as I type this that the temperature outside is only 18°F, not exactly standing at the grill weather. I have but one thing to say about that—

Toughen up buttercup. This is football!

Grilled Asian Wings
These are delicious and far less guilt inducing than your typical wings.

wings6

1 medium leek, halved and sliced thin
2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup tamari soy sauce
5 tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed
4 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
4 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. peeled, grated fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed

  1. Add all the ingredients (except the wings) to a medium bowl and stir to combine. Pour all the marinade except for 3 tablespoons into a large ziploc bag, place the wings in the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to insure all the wings are coated and allow to marinate for an hour.
  2. Prepare your grill by brushing the cooking grates clean and heating the grill to 350°F.
  3. Carefully oil the grates and grill the wings over medium heat, with the lid closed, until they are well browned and cooked through (turning them several times), 15 to 25 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooked wings to the large bowl and drizzle with the reserved marinade. Serve warm and… Go team!.

*adapted from weber

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