White bean, roasted red pepper, tomato risotto

White bean tomato risotto

Yesterday, for no reason in particular, I started singing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend while I was making dinner. I get stupid songs in my head all the time, and I usually can’t stop myself from singing them. Isaac was very upset! I was surprised by his reaction, and tried to laugh it off. I told him what a silly song it was. Or that it was about David’s childhood dog, named Diamond. And then we talked about other things, and I thought he’d forgotten. On the way to school on this drizzly fall morning Isaac said, “Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend!” Very emphatically. No, they’re not, I said. And then he said, “A girl’s best friend is a son!” And I laughed and said, sure it is! And then he started singing a song, “A Claire’s best friend is an Isaac, and a dog, and a Malcolm, and a daddy, and her house, and her land.” (Heh heh, my land! My acres and acres of land!) He’s right, of course! Being a crazy mom, a little whirlwind of reactions spiraled around my head. I’m glad he believes that! I like his anti-capitalist leanings (quite out of proportion with his acquisitive instinct around a toy aisle). I’m worried that he’s worried about money. Have we told him one-too-many times that we can’t afford a certain toy? Mostly I’m proud that he’s such a wise six-year-old, and grateful that he cheered me up. I’ve been in a blue funk lately about my inability to contribute much to the constant struggle to keep our heads above water, financially. It’s David’s birthday today, and I’m sad that I can’t give him something nice. But I’m making him dinner, and I hope he’ll like it, and I’m happy to be doing it! Happy to be thinking about foods he likes, happy to be thinking how lucky I am that he’ll try all my crazy meals, happy to be thinking about all the meals we’ve had together over the years, and the way our tastes have evolved together. Happy to spend a rainy day in a warm and fragrant kitchen, making food to feed someone I love.

Last night, on David’s Birthday Eve, we had this risotto. It’s a nice meal for a chilly fall day, when you still have piles of tomatoes tumbling off your counter. I realized, yesterday, that I’ve never had a risotto with beans in it. Which seems surprising, because rice and beans are so perfect together. I think of tomatoes, roasted reds, olives and white beans as being something of a classic combination. So I cooked it with arborio rice, and left it nice and warm and brothy.

Here’s Louis Armstrong with I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
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Black barley with baby kale (and roasted mushrooms, potatoes & pecans)

Barley & kale

I know I shouldn’t go on about it, but it’s on my mind. My dog died a couple of months ago. I still miss her everyday. I still look for her each morning, where her bed used to be. I dream about her incessantly. I’ve dreamt of her as a puppy, I’ve dreamt that she’s lost or not well, and I can’t save her, I’ve dreamt that she never died at all. The strangest dream was probably the most like actual life. She died, and I missed her, and it felt so unaccountable. Why do the most literal dreams feel so odd? I don’t want another dog, I really don’t. But I miss canine companionship. Our house feels so human, somehow, without her. The other day Isaac said, “Mom, you can’t just go up and pet every dog you see!” And he’s probably right, but that’s what I’ve been doing, and trying not to think that Steenbeck would have gone crazy if I’d gone home smelling like another dog. So yesterday, when I went to get the boys from school, and I saw a tiny, dark, bundle of puppyhood…I attacked it. I dropped everything (literally! it’s lucky no little children were standing below me because my umbrella is quite pointy). I grabbed it. Oh, the soft, round little belly. The hot little body, the racing heart. The little puppy eyes and ears! The puppy smell!!!! She didn’t really want to be held by me – she wanted to be running around, with the kids her own age. But I wasn’t taking the hint. I couldn’t let her go. My boys looked at me with sideways, skeptical looks. “Who is that?” they asked? The little kids who actually owned the dog danced around me, looking anxious. “When is she going to give it back?” they asked their nanny. Never! I cried. But I did. I put her down. The little dog was sort of blacky brown. She had that short, dark fur that looks almost purple or blue in certain lights. In other words, she looked like black barley. You see? There is a connection. Barley would be a good name for a dog, wouldn’t it?

This black barley dish is almost like a risotto, but like a risotto made by a very lazy person that didn’t want to make a broth or stir it every minute of the day. The barley is cooked till it’s tender but toothsome (if that means al dente). And it makes its own creamy sort of sauce, just like a risotto. I warmed some butter and white wine and herbs in a big frying pan, and added the barley with its creamy broth. Then I added some water and let that cook down a bit. I found baby kale at the grocery store, and I was quite excited about it. It does have a kale taste, but not as assertively. It has a little bite. I cooked it for much less time than I usually cook kale – I tossed it into the barley broth towards the end, and cooked till it was nicely wilted. (You could easily use regular kale, cooked first, or baby spinach, which wouldn’t need to be cooked at all.) I also made roasted mushrooms and tiny crispy roasted potatoes, to toss on the dish. And I toasted some pecans. I like all of these tastes together – and they all go so well with sage, rosemary and thyme, which I used to flavor pretty much every element involved. I topped mine with some crumbled bleu cheese, too, which added a lovely creamy/salty element, but nobody else in my family did, cause they’re not fans of the bleu cheese. The whole thing added up to a very savory, meaty meal – the smell of barley and roasted mushrooms lingered in my house all evening. It’s a nice smell!

Here’s Rebecca Sugar with Sleepy Puppies. I think it’s lovely!
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Leek & tarragon risotto with pecans

Leek & tarragon risotto

Want to hear a funny mondegreen? There’s a line in the Belle and Sebastian song, She’s Losing It, that goes, “Inch for inch and pound for pound, who needs boys when there’s Lisa around.” Well…David (H,C.G.) initially heard it as “Inch for inch and pound for pound, who needs boys when there’s leeks around.” Tee hee!! The leeks I bought (to recreate Remy’s soup) were extraordinarily large… Ahem. Okay, I’ll settle down.

I didn’t really want to make leek soup, mostly because I’d just made soup. But I did want to make something with a broth, because I thought it would be a handy way to use the trimmings from the leeks. (Why the heck are leeks so expensive around here? Aren’t they supposed to be a humble vegetable?) So I decided to make a risotto. And I decided to add tarragon and lots of parsley, because I’ve been in the mood for parsley lately, with its fresh green springlike flavor. And then I decided to top the risotto with toasted pecans, because all that creamy rice can use a flavorful crunch.

The broth is fairly important in a risotto, I think you’ll find. I generally make a broth with shallot, garlic, tomato paste, carrots, mushrooms, marmite, tamari, a handful of french lentils and whatever green thing I have around the house. I thought I’d like to make this a little simpler and brighter, though. So I used leek trimmings, a few sprigs of parsley, some fennel, some garlic, some frozen lettuce (darn my veg drawers!) and a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste. Turned out very nice! You can use what you have though. Even an already-made one, if you like the flavor.

It’s gotta be She’s Losing It from Belle and Sebastian.
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Toasted beet risotto with lime

Beet Risotto

Holy smoke, I’m excited about this one. Here’s how it all went down…we recently saw the fascinating film Beats, Rhymes and Life about A Tribe Called Quest. I was going on and on about it, and my friend Luke told me that Japanther, a band I like a lot, had just released an album called Beets, Limes and Rice! First of all – what a good name for an album! Second of all, what a good combination of tastes! Sweet, earthy beets and bright tart limes? Genius! So I decided to make a risotto (that’s the rice part) with beets and limes. I like risotto, but after years of encountering risotto as The Vegetarian Option at restaurants, I’ve become slightly disenchanted with it. Making this beet risotto brought all the magic back! For one thing, it’s really pretty. It’s lovely and ruby colored. For another thing, risotto is fun to make. It’s almost therapeutic. It requires attention, but it’s not really demanding, it can’t all go wrong for you. Well, it could, but it’s not likely to. And for yet another thing, risotto can be sort of mushy (I’m sorry, risotto, but it’s true). Which is why I decided to top it with pistachios and serve it with baby arugula, to be mixed in at the last minute, so it wilts slightly but retains its texture and bite. And the goat cheese, beside being a pretty white addition to go with all the scarlet and green, adds a nice touch of tartness to mingle with the lime and offset the beety sweetness.

beets, limes, and rice

And as it happens I’m completely enamored of the Japanther album. Here’s a track called Porcupine.
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