February 9, 2014

Fire Ants on a Log

(dreamy ants on a log closeup)

Darwin hops, a little, when he's excited. He's hopping now, as I slick some spicy peanut butter onto a celery stick, and stud the sticky stuff with dried fruit: 1950s throwback snack, with a hot sauce twist. I give him the plate.

Are those the ants?


They're not really ants, though.

Are you sure? They look like ants to me.

They're raisins!

I can't fool this kid.

But I am relishing his new interest in crunchy vegetables. He's been toothy enough to handle them for more than a year, but his expression chomping a raw carrot has long communicated, I disapprove of brittle plant matter.

Now that he enjoys crudites more, sticking to our veggies-with-every-meal-and-snack mantra has become a little breezier. Raw snap peas, cucumbers, carrots, and celery out-convenience most cooked veggies (not that we're abandoning those, of course), and even many packaged foods. And though Darwin's munching is sometimes tentative, and he occasionally aborts a a bite midway through, I take satisfaction in knowing he's tackling this messy business of learning how to eat well, one snack and meal at a time.

I started making this spicy snack, sans ants, many years ago in San Diego. I first shared it on the vegan recipe site Veg Web, where I described it as "reminiscent of buffalo wings and spicy Asian peanutty dishes."

reminiscent of Buffalo wings, and spicy Asian peanutty dishes. - See more at: http://vegweb.com/recipes/spicy-peanut-butter-and-celery#sthash.qCuiu39Y.dpuf
reminiscent of Buffalo wings, and spicy Asian peanutty dishes. - See more at: http://vegweb.com/recipes/spicy-peanut-butter-and-celery#sthash.qCuiu39Y.dpuf

Fire Ants on a Log
Serves as many as you like

celery stalks, rinsed and cut into 3-inch pieces
natural peanut butter (buy peanut butter with oil separation)
Frank's Red Hot sauce
raisins or other small dried fruit

In a bowl, combine a few Tbls. peanut butter with a few dashes of Frank's, to taste

Smear peanut butter on celery, top with raisins, and serve.

February 2, 2014

Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms (Gluten Free)

We renamed the holiday "Friendsgiving," because family celebrated elsewhere. We hailed from New York and South Carolina and California and Kentucky, places too far from Florida to justify traveling for one weekend. Instead, my grad-student writer-friends and I potlucked, crowding into a decided-upon apartment bearing foil-wrapped bowls and platters. Paper squares labeled the dishes, each in a different ink and handwriting. We drank and talked and stabbed our extravagant feasts on paper plates, sitting on the floor or in cat-scratched armchairs.

I learned that writers tend to be unusually good cooks, and to care deeply about food. Past Poet Laureate Charles Simic, for his part, recounts how an old colleague used to narrate a detailed sausage-and-peppers recipe to his writing students on the first day of class:

"The point, of course, was not just to stimulate their appetites, but to show them the degree of love and devotion to the smallest detail required to turn this simple Italian dish, often poorly made, into a culinary masterpiece. Writing stories and poems was like that too, he told them. Instead of the ingredients he had just conjured, there would be words, experiences, and imaginings to combine. Actually, what he demonstrated to his students was the ancient relationship between cooking, eating well, and storytelling."

This was Friendsgiving in all its happy and homesick glory: creative people connecting around good food and stories.

The last Friendsgiving I attended, Darwin toddled from room to room, narrowly avoiding steps he couldn't yet navigate and sharp-cornered furniture. My friend Becca brought stuffed mushrooms a lot like these, and someone wisely lifted the foil from the platter appetizer-early. The mushrooms, still warm, gooey, and compact, became the most-savored course of Darwin's little dinner, and mine.


Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms (Gluten Free)
Makes 16-18 mushrooms

16-18 medium-large button mushrooms, rinsed and pat dry
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 sweet onion, chopped small
2 stalks celery, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbls. minced fresh Italian parsley
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 375 and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large pan, saute onions and celery in a swirl of olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, pluck stems from the mushrooms and discard or save the stems for another recipe. Arrange the mushrooms on the cookie sheet in rows.

Add garlic to veggies and fry one minute more.

Stir quinoa into the pan with the veggies, and cook briefly, until evenly warmed.

Remove pan from heat and add cheese and parsley. Stir to combine. Taste and add pepper and salt if you like (remember that Parmesan is a salty cheese already. I add only pepper.)

Use a spoon to generously stuff the quinoa mixture into the mushrooms, then drizzle olive oil loosely across the rows.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until quinoa tops are crispy and brown, and mushrooms are soft and have given up their liquid.

Serve warm with extra parsley sprinkled as a garnish.