Thursday, March 18, 2010
On My Own
What’s cooking? Orange and Olive Salad
I’ve been flying solo this week. With my hubby off at a bridge tournament, I’ve been luxuriating in doing it my way for the entirety of almost every day. Mostly, it involves a lot of puttering. The kitchen island is nearly invisible, littered with magazines open to where I left off reading, and recipes I’ve torn out but not yet filed, newspapers open to the continuation of that page 1 piece... and on it goes. Almost totally unstructured, and, oddly enough, not as productive as I had hoped. I had visions of clearing out the garage (amazing, isn’t it, how the garage clutters itself up even in a new house after only a year?), and writing every day. But none of that has happened. This has been a theme of life for me ever since moving to Texas.
Prior to the move, I’d spent two years building the house – monthly trips to Austin, memos on paint colors and tile layouts to the contractors, keeping track of light fixtures and plumbing fixtures and furniture to buy – with such excruciating organization needs that every day seemed chock-a-block with to-do lists. And in the last nine months before the move, there was the additional small matter of selling the house in New Jersey.
So now, with all that behind me, I feel a bit untethered. I’ve always maintained that creative people perform better in a box. The smaller the box, the more creative the solution that emerges. For instance, if someone tells me to “write something,” with no other requirement or guideline, I am stymied by the infinity of choices. But if I need to write something about a financial instrument (yes, I do that, too) or a bridge in Japan or a piece of kitchen equipment, ah, the creative juices just flow. So I’m discovering that a certain amount of structure is a good thing. But the kids are grown, the husband is retired, the house is built. This structure will have to be of my own making.
One of my little indulgences this week has been to spend time in my kitchen garden. Back in December, I sowed some lettuce seeds in the planter boxes there. And the Texas winter being as mild as it is, I’ve only had to cover them a couple of times to protect them from the frost, and now I have a really bumper crop of tender baby lettuces: Ruby leaf lettuce, baby romaine, oak leaf lettuce, and several varieties whose names are a complete mystery. But they look great, and they taste so tender and sweet, I can hardly keep my hands off them. I also planted several arugula plants, and after enjoying arugula salads all winter, I’m now letting them flower just to see what it looks like.
These days, my favorite salad – which really doesn’t need lettuce at all, but why not if you’ve got it? – is a great sweet-salty combination of orange slices and chunky olive purée. It appeared one Wednesday in Mark Bittman’s New York Times column, “The Minimalist,” and with oranges being always available, it works well all year long. Did I mention that it’s also fast and easy and gorgeous?
Orange and Olive Salad (serves 4)
1 cup good black olives, preferably oil cured, pitted
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dressing
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
4 naval oranges, peeled, seeded, and sliced into rounds
Pulse the olives a couple of times in a food processor with a bit of the olive oil, then turn the machine on and quickly add the remaining olive oil, so the purée ends up being a bit rough. Stir in the thyme if you're using it, thin with more olive oil if necessary, and set aside. Kitchen Goddess note: According to Bittman, the olive purée keeps a month in the frig. I’m sure I’ve kept it longer, so when I make it, I tend to double the recipe so that the next time, all I have to do is cut up the oranges.
Layer 3 or 4 slices of orange on each plate, drizzle with olive oil, top with a good tablespoon of the tapenade, and sprinkle with fennel seeds.