Friday, August 12, 2011

A Pie for Mikey

This week, my fellow food blogger Jennifer Perillo's beloved husband, Mikey, died of a sudden heart attack. Word of her tragedy quickly spread throughout the food-blogosphere as her friends and fellow bloggers rushed to try to help, to sign up for a homemade food delivery rotation, to ask what they could do to help. Jennie answered that question with this blog post, saying, "For those asking what they can do to help my healing process, make a peanut butter pie this Friday and share it with someone you love. Then hug them like there's no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on."

I don't know Jennifer or her family, but - like hundreds of other people who have heard her story in the last few days - I wanted to join in the chorus of people making peanut butter pies for Mikey. Jennie's request reminds me of the Raymond Carver story, A Small Good Thing. That story has always been a sure-fire tear-jerker for me: I cry not just for the devastated, angry parents of a child who has passed away, but also for the lonely, furious baker - childless, never married, apparently without friends or loved ones of his own. He bakes the cakes for other people's celebrations - the children's birthdays he will never celebrate, the anniversaries and graduations and weddings. And though I have always known how incredibly surrounded by love and wonderful friends and family I have always been... in my loneliest and most self-pitying moments, I have felt like I was the baker. That I was somehow destined to bake the wedding cakes for other people, but never for myself.

In the end of Raymond Carver's story, they come together - the lonely baker, the grieving parents - and in a crescendo of love and forgiveness, the baker serves the couple their first meal since the death of their son. He feeds them hot sweet rolls and coffee, and he says to them, "You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this."

How very true that is. And so I make this pie in hopes that it will be a small, good thing for Jennifer and her daughters. I hope that she will find comfort in its making, and in its sharing, and in the hundreds of bloggers who are coming together today to make a peanut butter pie for Mikey.

And I will share it with my Steady Eddie, a man who not only loves a good peanut butter dessert, but has managed to transform a lonely baker into a woman who believes in love with every bit of her cynical little heart.

Edited to add: Bloggers Without Borders has established #afundforJennie - a place where you can make contributions directly to Jennie Perillo, if you wish to do so. Go to for more information and to make a donation.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Three summer salads

My appetite, like most people's, is dictated by the seasons. In the winter, I crave thick, warming stews, big chunks of meat and bowls of creamy soup. In the summer, though, I'm dreaming of salads. These three salads are all relatively quick and simple, and they make use of the season's most gorgeous produce.


Every year, I look forward to corn and tomato salad. When corn comes into season, it's every bit as juicy and sweet as a ripe tomato, and when you combine them with each other... spectacular! It's like everything that's good about August - backyard barbecues, swimming pools and fireflies at dusk... even if you're sitting in your apartment in the middle of the city. This salad can take a lot of creativity, so feel free to change it up. Use different herbs, subtract the bacon, add some cheese, throw some other veggies in... with a base this good, it's pretty hard to mess it up.

Corn and Tomato Salad
serves two

2 ears of corn on the cob, shucked
one large tomato (or two or three smaller ones)
two or three slices of bacon (I like three, cause, you know... baaacon)
fresh oregano
fresh basil
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Fry bacon strips until crispy. While the bacon is cookin', bring a large pot of water to a boil and boil corn until it's done. (Four or five minutes.) Remove corn and let it cool off. While you're waiting for the corn to cool off, chop the tomato into small chunks and chiffonade the herbs. Then go ahead and cut the kernels of corn off the cob. Whisk up a quick vinaigrette in a large bowl; I go a little heavy on the vinegar for this salad, so probably a 2:1 ratio of balsamic to olive oil. Mix everything together, season with salt and pepper and voila. You made corn and tomato salad!


I had some CSA beets to use last week and I wanted to make them into a salad slightly more interesting than the classic beet-and-goat-cheese one. Using my awesome Googling powers, I came across a bunch of recipes for beet and avocado salads. Sounds good, I thought, and scurried to the grocery store to pick up an avocado. I started slicing things up for the salad on my butcher block right next to the bowl of nectarines I'd just picked up at the farmer's market, and inspiration struck. Thus, I give you:

Avocado, Beet and Nectarine Salad
serves two

two or three large beets, or an equivalent amount of smaller ones, roasted
one avocado
two nectarines
lettuce or salad greens
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
1 t honey

First, roast those beets in a 375-degree oven for about an hour. Then, in a medium sized bowl, combine balsamic, olive oil and honey and whisk until combined. Mix the salad greens with the balsamic vinaigrette and salt in the bowl, then distribute them to your plates. Top with sliced beets, nectarines and half an avocado. Dinner is done. This could also use some goat cheese, if that's how you roll.


And finally, the kind of salad that I always see in those fancy pants farm-to-table sorts of Brooklyn restaurants and always want to order despite knowing I could make it myself at home for like, five dollars. Sorry, Franny's, I love you dearly but... tonight I make my own small plates!

Golden Beet and Green Bean Salad
hazelnut, whipped ricotta, fried zucchini blossom
serves two

two or three large golden beets
half a pound of green beans, trimmed and cut into 2" lengths
ricotta cheese
toasted hazelnuts (you can toast them in the microwave by zapping a handful on high for a minute at a time until them smell awesome, usually less than 2 minutes total)
balsamic vinaigrette, as above
zucchini blossoms
oil for frying (vegetable oil works best, though olive oil will do... just be careful, because it gets smoky)

Roast the beets wrapped in foil at 375 degrees for about an hour. When they're done, it's time to get going - cut the beets up into chunks, then steam the green beans for five minutes or so. Mix the green beans and the beet chunks with the vinaigrette, then distribute to their respective plates. Top with a scoop of ricotta and some hazelnuts, which you should probably chop up pretty well. To fry the zucchini blossoms: heat about 1/2" of oil in a frying pan over medium to medium high heat. Then - combine about 1 c. of flour with a roughly equal amount of seltzer and mix well. You want the batter to be the consistency of pancake syrup - thick but definitely liquid. Dip the blossoms in the batter, coating well, then drop into the hot oil and fry those puppies til they're done. Drain them on a paper towel and salt them well, then arrange them on the plate with the salad. Gorgeous! Take that, $14 appetizer!