Bits and pieces

pine nuts and chile oilJacob has been carrying around his color swatch for days now, signed by Maryanne at the hardware store, who got the paint for him.

pine nuts and chile oilThe boys’ bedroom is a soft warm white. One wall, though – one wall is now orange. Not rust, not butternut, not pumpkin or peach. But, in fairness, not quite Crayola either. The paint was intended for inside the closet, between the trim lines, and Jacob painted there, signing his name in white paint once the orange was dry. His joy was so palpable though, that in the end we painted one whole wall.

“I feel like I might be a real painter, Mommy!”

“Mommy, I painter too!” Lucas has his tool box, his cowboy hat, and Kyle’s gray Pumas. “I real painter guy Mommy!”

The color is growing on me.


basil jar

Gabe and Amanda are back from their world adventure. They bring baubles from Venice, Portugal, Gibraltar. We didn’t have room to fit much, says Gabe. Just tokens. They camp out in our back shed (or our guest cottage, if you believe MLS). The skylights and the jet lag wake them at odd times. My kids relentlessly hound them for games and attention. I rope them into what turns out to be a massive, messy undertaking (see above re: orange paint).

picking basil

They make us mushroom risotto, do dishes, fold laundry and paper airplanes, break up arguments over shovels and rubber ducks. They show the boys coins from all of their travels, and they clean up the glass and wipe the tears when a beloved snow globe breaks.

basil and feta

Amanda helps me make a decision about the dark wood outdoor dining set that our neighbors are selling for a song. Gabe helps me make dinner (including a leek and mustard sauce that will make it here one day). We eat outside. When Lucas’s paper airplane winds up on the roof, it is Amanda who gets it down.

The night before they leave, I bake them cookies to take on the train. Trinkets, tokens, gratitude, love.



The blocks are meant to build math skills, or maybe they are meant to take me back to first grade. Regardless, they are being used to construct towers. Lucas stacks and leans and balances them.

“Lu-dis build sky-scaper Mommy!”

After we put the blocks away, he carries cans from pantry drawers to the living room. He stacks those too, with his sweet toddler fingers.

can stacking

“Sky-scaper Mommy! Big sky-scaper! I so big, build dis big sky-scaper!”

That afternoon when I leave to take Jacob to swimming lessons, Lucas cuddles tearfully with Amanda. “I not too little, Mommy! I not too little!

Next summer, I promise him. Soon, soon.


potato beans

Jacob is grinning wide, his arms raised and perfectly positioned, his turquoise rashguard bright in the sun. He looks down at Chris, his instructor, and I can hear his laughter clear across the pool. He dives, splashing, surfacing to grab Chris’s arms.

Walking to the car, he holds my hand and looks back toward the pool. “Mommy, when I am a teenager, and almost a grownup, I can play waterpolo and teach swimming and be a lifeguard, just like Chris.” He is wrapped in his orange striped towel, his cheeks pink from the afternoon. My beautiful boy. I try to picture him as a swim instructor, a lifeguard, a teenager. I look at his hair, all spiky with sunblock, and the back of his neck, golden brown from summer. I can sense, just barely, the possibilities of summer ten years from now.

He hands me his towel and lets go of my hand to balance along the curb. He raises his arms, hands together, ready to dive.



Beans with Toasted Pine Nuts

Molly wrote recently about the Conchiglie with yogurt, peas and chile from Jerusalem. Kyle and I made that dish early on in our love affair with this cookbook, and we liked it – but what we went crazy for were the pine nuts. Toasty and golden brown, spicy from the chile, with a slow subtle heat that doesn’t kick you in the mouth – it caresses you. It’s a soft back-of-throat kind of burn, definite but not dominant. When I cooked our standard pot of beans the following week, I made the pine nuts to go with them. The feta and basil, as in the pasta recipe, are clutch: salty and herby go all in with the spice and the toasty crunch from the nuts, and your mouth wins.

Some bean things: I too use canned beans in a pinch, but not here. Use good beans and cook them yourself. Emmy has great words of wisdom about cooking white beans. (In the Bay Area I like Rancho Gordo, Fifth Crow Farm, and Community Grains for beans – look for someone at your local Farmer’s Market selling ‘fresh’ dried heirloom beans.) (And if you don’t take my word for it, Tara writes eloquently about the difference between regular bulk beans and ‘fresh’ ones, that is, dried beans that were picked this year.) As for warm versus cold beans: we genuinely like it both ways. Let the weather be your guide.

We cook a simple pot of beans most weeks, straight up or with a little bit of onion and salt. For this recipe I love cannellini beans, which when cooked from dry have a wonderful texture almost like new potatoes: soft and yielding, but still with some chew. My kids call these potato beans, and eat them dipped in ketchup, and prefer them to tater tots! (Ignore for a moment that they have never had tater tots. They don’t want to try tater tots, because they really love these beans.)

This makes about enough for 4 servings, but is obviously easy to modify.

4 cups cooked beans, such as cannellini
2 teaspoons chile flakes (more or less, to taste)*
1/2 cup good olive oil
1 cup basil leaves, torn or chopped
5 ounces feta cheese, broken into pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and chile flakes and fry, watching carefully, for 4 minutes, until the nuts are toasty golden brown and the olive oil has turned deep red. Remove from heat.

Divide the beans into four bowls. On top of each bowl, drizzle a generous spoonful of the nuts and their oil. Add big pinches of basil and feta. Serve.

* For chile: Ottolenghi and Tamimi recommend Turkish or Syrian chile flakes, such as Aleppo or Urfa chile. I have used a mixture of regular red chile flakes, paprika, and cayenne and had good results. Obviously, hotter chile will mean spicier oil and nuts: season to taste.


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