An Indoor Picnic

JC confessed jealousy. Having an entire post dedicated to her was not enough; she wanted pizza. I explained how pizza was a collaboration- I did not know, and never attempted to try to roll out the dough- that was the guinea pig’s job- I’m in charge of the toppers, and caramelizing the onions in bacon fat, and sneaking on more cheese when the guinea pig isn’t looking. And his schedule is not one you can rely on during the week, keeping behind computer screens, working late. So, she settled for bolognese. That I could do, all on my own, because of course, mine was better than the Italian guinea pig’s, and in fact, one of the best he’s ever had. (The guinea pig also did recently confess his resentment and underlying hate he felt for that post).

I started a day ahead, with carrots, celery, and onions, salted. I used my hand immersion blender to paste them when tender, then continued to let them brown. I will take the time to quote Chef Anne Burrell and say, “because brown food tastes good”. She’s right; the browner the better. Then I mashed some Italian sweet sausage with a nicely diced onion half, and let that brown too. The fat from the sausage meat melts away, and the sausage and onions start to cook in its own fat, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing. There was a time when I despised fat, but I have come to realize, butter and bacon fat are capable of so much more than a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can be. Of course, the right amount of it used in the right place at the right time.

The sausage joined the vegetable paste in my red enameled cast iron pot along with plum tomatoes kept in tomato juice, and cooked together for the rest of the evening. Time makes for a wonderfully developed and mature sauce. I put it in the fridge, wrapped in a dishcloth, before going to bed, and did not put it back on the stove until I got back home from school the following night, giving it another hour or two for the flavors to penetrate.

Although I mixed a fair amount of sauce with a few splashes of reserved pasta water and the spaghetti, I heaped our plates of saucy spaghetti with extra bolognese before grating the wedge of parmigiano reggiano JC had brought over. She almost topped her soup theories by stating that she didn’t know one could actually make sauce- that it was physically possible. “I mean, I knew you could add meat to the sauce, but I thought the sauce always comes from a can.” And, there are sauces that already have meat in them, or at least they promote meat, whatever that might mean- having meat product, meat by-product, or meat flavor. Then, JC stepped up her game, “Sometimes I’ll buy the ones that come in glass jars. Yeah, I get fancy, I’ll buy sauce in glass.” She can be quite charming.

The next day the guinea pig and I were left with barely any leftover sauce and two stomachs to feed. I took out the grill, his grill that I’ve borrowed and never returned, a cast iron beau that creates handsome grill marks and an exquisite char, and  I lined up asparagus and slices of a yellow bell pepper, all the fresh that was left in the refrigerator.

I called out that the pasta is almost ready, which turned out to be rigatoni tossed with asparagus, peppers, the remaining bolognese, and grated pecorino romano. The guinea pig stood pensively in front of the window before suggesting to sit on the carpet beneath it. The table was covered in mail and laptops, and I have just the equipment for eating on the floor. I directed him to it, the sheet that goes down first, then the smaller vinyl tablecloth that lies on top in the middle. Come Friday, the weekend, we would gather at my grandparent’s house in Northern Tehran for lunch, and being so many of us, the 8 person table would not suffice. So, we all would sit cross legged on the floor around a long vinyl cloth, elaborated with lace design, our plates in front of us of rice and kabob with sides of yogurt and slices of raw onion. Then, a common practice, is to just slowly plummet onto the floor for a light nap, right at the spread.

Saturday lunch, in my Hanover, NH apartment we had a two person indoor picnic, protected from the cold but, glancing out the window to the forest coated mountains and green fields below, still enjoying the blessings of nature. Hearing the guinea pig make love to every bite he took, the recycled leftovers seemed a success. I saved a shaving of cheese saucy from bolognese as my last bite before slowly descending onto the sheet beneath.

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Mahi Mahi Monday

Recent climate changes have given us false hope and caused confusion. We were gifted with warm temperatures last weekend, screaming for sleeveless tops and short bottoms, then stabbed with an entire week of nonstop rain-pour, and strong winds, something rare up here even during the 30 degrees below zero winters. We woke up to a Sunday that showcased the sun, thinking it was the perfect opportunity to step outside of Hanover and drive up to Woodstock for brunch. (I say “up” because I mean Woodstock, Vermont, not three days of peace and music summer of 1969 Woodstock.) But, stepping outside into the cold winds, we decided this Sunday wasn’t the best choice to enjoy an outer-Hanover experience, specially if it’s going to be another 30 minute drive farther North.

Put an Iranian and an Italian together and you have two people who are always late. We did not step outside until the afternoon, when our stomachs could no longer take the pain of fasting. We ran some errands, and both on the fence of lunching in Woodstock, sniffling as we held our collars tightly closed, the guinea pig proposed we just go back to my apartment for a quick fix. I objected- I looked too nice to end the day with merely a run to the ATM and the air station at the gas pump.

I had transferred two cuts of Mahi Mahi loins from the freezer to the fridge before leaving. The plan that we never followed through was to have a sandwich, a revision from brunch, at Woodstock, and come home for a Mahi Mahi dinner. But that didn’t happen.

Brunch was delayed to lunch, and lunch ended up being “linner” (if I can call a meal in between lunch and dinner that), all because we decided to try out the new place in town, and everything on their menu. We went to 3 Guys BBQ Basement,(who didn’t open until 4:30, having us kill time in a dress boutique, me trying on dresses and the guinea pig being an awfully good wingman) and first ordered the brisket and the ribs, with sides of fries and baked bean, and of course beer from the draft. Halfway through, we reasked for the menu, and put in an order of pulled pork and fried pickles. The waiter, probably disgusted by the surprise of just how much two normal sized people can put into their stomachs, brought us the check, not even asking if we would like to try the big ass red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting and candied pecans for dessert, although, he did ask for our assessment on the various menu items we had sampled.

We left the place smelling like smoked pigs, and ended up replacing a dinner of fish with fruit- a salad of straw and blue berries, bananas, cantaloupe, an orange, and pink crisp apples tossed with Marsala.

And so, Monday night became Mahi Mahi night. Mahi Mahi is firm yet moist. The name is Hawaiian for “very strong”, but it’s funny because “mahi” is the Farsi name for fish. I grilled it with some salt and pepper, and served it with some rice that was cooked in tomato juice with peppers and black beans, and topped it with a wonderful salsa. I put a few tomatillos with some scallions, a bit of olive oil, and a chile pepper, seeds removed, into the blender. I finely chopped cilantro, and diced two avocados. I grilled the corn, getting a nice black char on the kernels. Come corn season, on the streets of Tehran, vendors will be sitting behind a rectangular tin pit in a sidewalk corner, with heads of corn shimmering directly on burning charcoal. They sit on an upside-down turned fruit crate, fanning the fire and turning the corn. Once the corn is cooked, charred and smokey, it’s taken off the fire and dumped into a bucket of salt water, and from the bucket, it’s shaken, then handed to the customer. After fiercely teething every kernel off the bone, I always suck the very tip, drawing in the salty, smokey, sweet.

The corn danced on the grill vigorously, almost in a salsa. Their kernels popped every once in a while, snapping out loud, like popping corn. I used my knife to slice them off the bone. I tasted the tomatillo mixture before adding the cilantro, avocado, and now grilled corn, and it was spicy. I had removed the seeds from the pepper, where most of the heat lies, and even tried a bite of its red flesh, and found it mild. But, soaking in the green tomato juices, it had released spice, and too much of it for the guinea pig to handle. So, I improvised, and counter-balanced it with a squeeze of honey. I waited, but, there was no complaining, no sniffling, and no eyes watering.

Put an Iranian and an Italian together and we’re always late, but, our stomachs are always happy, and full.

Burrata Me Up and Call Me Creamy

Standing with a 16oz box of arugula in hand for $4.99 in front of a window of mozzarella cheeses,  an impulsive pizza dinner was decided upon. When I proposed the idea to my friend, a Sicilian girl working for the Italian department here at the college, she replied, “With wine?”

And so I was introduced to burrata, mozzarella balls stuffed with mozzarella bits and cream. Cheese stuffed with cheese. The idea had me curiously drooling, so along with a ball of mozzarella, I bought a bucket of burrata. We checked out and stopped to the Co-Op on the way home, a market similar to Whole Foods but native to the Upper Valley distributing mostly local goods, for some dough and imported proscuitto di Parma, thinly sliced off the leg, bagged, weighed, and stickered. Wine was purchased, and a couple of bottles of it.

I called the guinea pig and explained the situation. He moaned a bit, just having gone through a box of pizza for lunch, and having had a frozen store-bought pizza the day before- of course thawed and cooked in the oven. He agreed in the end, as if doing me a favor. “Or, I can just make you an arugula salad of some sort.” He objected. Pizza for the third time in two days started to sound not too shabby.

The doughs were rolled out, this time with an actual rolling pin- the Sicilian brought her’s over, so we no longer had to cling saran wrap to an empty wine bottle. We lathered them with sauce and put them in the oven and raised our glasses while we waited. One was to become a vegetarian friendly raddichio and acorn squash, although we all hold meat dear to our hearts, and the other would be topped with arugula and proscuitto, after the cheeses promiscuously gave in and deliquesced, and put in the oven just for a minute to warm things through and barely melt the cured fat- keeping the proscuitto crudo and not cotto.

When I was cutting the burrata, the guinea pig stood over my shoulder and said, “Disaster. You can throw it away.” I ignored the comment at the time, but it wasn’t until yesterday when I realized he thought the outpouring of creamy mozzarella bits was an illicit mistake of what a mozzarella should be; stringy and compact and consolidated. The Italian guinea pig too was experiencing burrata for the first time, and well, his first time, I guess you can say was a roofied one- it wasn’t until two days later when he actually understood what had happened.

Pizza was on Friday, the guinea pig’s amnesiac experience of melted burrata, and his first conscious understanding of the cheese was to come on Sunday. I whisked coarse mustard, balsamic, honey and olive oil with salt and pepper, and tossed in arugula and grated carrots. The arugula is a peppery green, and carrots add a subtle sweetness. On top I sliced a burrata ball down the middle. A rush of white oozing from the first puncture, I tried to keep things in tact with the blade of my knife, giving him his half with sliced tomatoes, and mine with none- I do not care for tomatoes in the raw.

“Ahhh, burrata! I’ve heard about that!” He pronounces “heard” like “hear” with a “d” sound at the end.

I guess I took his burrata virginity this weekend. And mine too.

Thank you Sicilian to have set us up.

Now if we can only find a way to somehow partially cook, grill, char, or crisp the crust, keeping it intact, and having the insides ooze like hot lava with the poke of a fork, that would be raunchy.