Can every year be one where the Super Bowl, Lunar New Year, and Mardi Gras fall three days in a row? I have had (1) pizza, (2) wings, (3) a majority share in about four different party-sized bags of chips, (4) dumplings, (5) noodles, and (6) pancakes in the last 72 hours. I feel like this super nutritious line-up of February holidays could really only have been better if Valentine’s Day rounded it off today. But it is this Sunday, so that’s pretty much just as good. (And I already got a head start on the chocolate. So we can add that as (7) on the list.)
I’m boring when it comes to leftovers. (Strategy: Remove from refrigerator and eat. Alternatively, freeze, forget about, then find three months later and still eat.) My mom, on the other hand, makes magic with them — I can’t remember a single time that she tossed out leftovers in our kitchen, or a time that we didn’t ask for the rest of our dinner to be packed up when we went out to eat. Instead, I can see her poised with an open clamshell container in one hand and a metal spatula in the other, mouth pursed, surveying her wok and trying to figure out how to upcycle last night’s takeout into inevitably more delicious fried rice, or stir-fried noodles, or a simmering pot of soup. Some of her recipes are ones where she even swears by leftovers, like her mapo tofu, which she won’t make unless she’s stir-fried giant prawns the day before and has the fiery-red broth left over. (Don’t tell her I gave away her secret ingredient.)
We’re scheduled to fly back to Hawaii in a little less than a month, and an email has already landed in our inboxes from my adorable mother-in-law, asking whether we want galbi or spicy ahi poke when we land. (It actually came through like, two weeks ago.) B2’s mom is my favorite for all kinds of reasons, but I love this about her — every time we go home it’s a parade of food she thinks we might want to eat. Plates of fruit appear when we’re not looking, trays of kimbap emerge from a trip to the Korean supermarket, little rows of pastel dduk are lined up meticulously in case we want to nibble on something. On top of that, since I’m neither Korean nor from Hawaii, B2’s mom has made it her personal mission to introduce foods to me that I might not have had before, bringing home everything from fish jeon to Leonard’s malasadas in the name of my food education. (She also has the cutest tiny cocktail forks that she puts out with everything. So pretty much she embodies all my mom goals.)
Every once in a blue moon, usually when we’re just about to fall asleep, B2 likes to come up with ideas for things I should cook next. I use “ideas” loosely, because it’s mostly a sleepy, intentionally goofy dialogue that consists of “what about …” followed by a long pause and things like “… homemade hot pockets!” (to be fair, that would be delicious) or “something with cheese” or “pumpkin toast.” (When I asked what pumpkin toast would be, like toasted pumpkin bread or toast with pumpkin on it or toasted pumpkin or what, his answer was, “You know. Pumpkin. Toast. Pumpkin toast.” And then he fell asleep. Two weeks later, I showed him this and he said, with glee, “See? It was a good idea!”)
So I think I’m about five years late to this party. But I am newly, and really, obsessed with dates. They are so good. How are they so good? I don’t know how I was so woefully misinformed, but up until a couple months ago I had this idea that dates were just a vague something to be nibbled on at your grandmother’s house if all the cookies were gone, or maybe used as a convenient vehicle for goat cheese and bacon, or admired from afar as a healthful “substitute-for” things I am generally reluctant to substitute. And then I was gifted a box of really great ones, with fancy things like orange peel and almonds tucked inside, and my world was totally rocked. This is probably news only to me at this point, but it turns out dates are pretty much candy. They have a consistency like caramel and nearly the same buttery taste; they’re sticky and soft and reminiscent of wonderful things like honey, cinnamon and molasses. B2 was unmoved by my date revolution (although he hasn’t gotten tired of responding to “Want a date?” with “I thought we were already married. Get it?”) but, with or without him, I’m fairly sure I’ve eaten my weight in them since April.
As much as I dread fall (mostly because of the season that-shall-not-be-named that comes after it), I have to admit that I secretly enjoy more things about it than any cold-weather hater should have the right to. There’s the undeniable coziness of multiple layers and fuzzy slippers, the soothing weight of a heavy comforter at night, the crisp in-between weather that’s cool enough for classy wool coats but not so cold that I’m resigned to rustly Michelin-Man puffer jackets; there’s the never-ending cornucopia of magical fall baking, from warm, spicy poached pears tucked into baked oatmeal and scones brushed with maple syrup to a surplus of pillowy baked bread and my very first challah. And, maybe best of all, there are magical things like virtual pumpkin parties, thanks to Sara of Cake Over Steak!
A couple of months ago I stumbled on this caramelized onion and yogurt pasta by Diane Kochilas. It’s just like it sounds — tangles of caramelized onions and thick, strained Greek yogurt, tossed with sunshine-yellow pasta and a few ladles of starchy water, then served with nothing more than a generous grating of salty cheese on top. Yogurt in pasta! And by all accounts, super delicious. I’ve been meaning to try it ever since, totally fascinated by the idea that you could get a rich, alfredo-like sauce from Greek yogurt instead of cream. The one thing that continues to surprise me as time goes on is how rich foods tend to overwhelm me easier and easier these days — clearly this blog shows that I still love it as much as I ever did, but somewhere along the way, slightly more nourishing alternatives, especially when they’re not “lighter” substitutes but just really genius ideas that happen to be good for you, got super exciting. (15-year-old belly with an appetite for Jack-in-the-Box breakfast sandwiches every morning, where did you go?!)
You know what I really love (besides pancakes)? The things that you just know are going to be good before you get to try them. Black sesame soft-serve. This nubbly sweater that just came in the mail. (But not the other one that I’m returning. Or the shirt.) Emoji updates. (Tacos! Cheese!) Everything about this. It’s like you see it, you just know, and that’s pretty much exactly how I felt when I saw this caramelized banana French toast last year. Cloaked in buttery brown sugar caramel, gently spiced, and cradled by carbs, it was Sunday morning perfection — I don’t know if I’d ever given thought to caramelized banana goodness in breakfast before then, but I’m now convinced it belongs in any and all breakfasts imaginable.
The first time I had a Dough doughnut was at a little sun-drenched picnic about a year ago. Linda graced us with a floppy box brimming with gems from this shop I’d previously never heard of (I live under a rock) and they looked glorious — plump and squashy, stacked two levels deep on sticky wax paper and cloaked in crackly, dripping glazes of all colors and flavors.
Overwhelmed by choice, I just went for the one with the prettiest color (because I evidently judge both books and carbs by their covers). It was an enormous and aggressively magenta beauty that turned out to be, as you might have guessed, hibiscus — and it was totally magnificent. The mouth-puckering brightness from the hibiscus is a perfect balance for the decadence of fried dough, and keeps it addictive long after chocolate or dulce de leche might have gotten heavy. Which was both a good and terrible thing, since I started with a lady-like half (ha) and ended up finishing a whole, another half … and the other half of that half. So crazy good.
Figs are here! We finally had our first figs of the year this weekend, and words cannot adequately express how excited I am. I feel like my first fig sighting is always one of the best days of the summer, even if it means fall isn’t far away, but this year I’ve been even more eager than usual to catch a glimpse of those plump little soldiers standing in their neat, blue-purple rows under the awning at our favorite produce store.