Plus, smashburger tips, a plug for mussels, and book musings
Hi, friends. Welcome to the birthday edition of my newsletter! By this I mean both that it was my birthday on Friday and that, given that I’m aiming to write this about once a month from now on, this edition marks a year of semi-regular newslettering.
Given that this newsletter started with a roundup of pantry-stable favorites, that means it’s also the anniversary of when we embarked on our new pandemic-era lives. If you pop open Sam’s camera roll to March 2020, you’ll find a photo of me all smiles at a restaurant in downtown SF, about to dig into my birthday meal of moules frites. Swipe left, and the next picture is of the newspaper box right outside our apartment, with “STAY AT HOME” splashed across that day’s edition, like something out of a zombie movie.
Birthdays tend to get me into a pensive mood, and the pandemic anniversary has amplified that tendency. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve gained and lost this year, and where my life is headed. I keep circling back to the fact that I’m now older than my mom was when I was born; it makes me feel profoundly “behind,” which is less about my current childlessness than some imperfect benchmark of maturity. Admittedly, I often fall into the trap of assuming that have one’s act together is a prerequisite for certain life events (marriage, children, major promotions) when I suspect that having those events thrust upon you forces you to rise to the occasion.
There are, however, signs of progress. I took the day off on Friday, but surprised myself by hopping out of bed and on to our spin bike as I would have done had it not been my birthday - no protestations about it being a special occasion, no choice of an easier-than-scheduled workout. It’s a tiny thing, but felt very profound, starting a new year of life as I meant to go on. I’m hoping I can be kind to myself, and know that if I’m not going to be the person with the perfect record (of working out, eating healthily, being ultra-productive) I can at least strive to be the best at getting back on the horse.
For the past few years, birthdays have meant an influx of new cookbooks, and thanks to extremely generous family and friends, plus a treat-yourself trip to Omnivore Books, I’ve added five more to my collection, including Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice, Chetna Makan’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian, and Julia Turshen’s Simply Julia, all of which I’m really excited to cook from. (If you’re a Julia fan, I also enjoyed this interview with her on the Second Life Podcast.)
In news on old favorites, Leela Punyaratabandhu’s Simple Thai Food is still constantly pulled out of my bookshelf — her lap, made in my case with pork, remains on my weeknight meal rotation, and I finally tried and fell in love with her oxtail soup. It’s a Thai-Muslim dish, scented with cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper and bulked out with tomatoes and potatoes. We ate it for lunches all week, and I can’t wait until Costco has oxtail back in stock again so I can make it again.
Despite my earlier declaration that I was going to make steak for Valentine’s day dinner, we ended up going a much more pedestrian route: hamburgers. Sam and I suddenly realized that we had eaten precisely two hamburgers since things first locked down and needed to remedy that situation as soon as possible. (If anybody has a solid answer to Super Duper Burgers that’s located in the Mission, please tell me!)
I chose Kenji López-Alt’s smashburger recipe because it’s allegedly the same as the one they serve at Wursthall, which we love. However, because it was Valentine’s day, I decided to be extra and make my own french fries and onion strings, the latter of which Sam’s dad made for us over the summer and I couldn’t stop snacking on.
The burger-smashing was easier than I thought it would be, though I highly recommend following the method Omar Mamoon demo’d in this Instagram video to avoid sticking and also to avoid getting your fingers on the side of the pan and having to try to figure out what degree burn you have at 9pm on a work night.
Today I went to the farmer’s market and, given that my favorite farmer is taking a hiatus, picked up a produce box from Dirty Girl that seems to be approximately 80% lettuce, so apparently we’re going to have a salad-heavy week. I also picked up a chicken from Root Down Farm, promptly forgot about it, then bought two mackerel, a pound of salmon, and two pounds of mussels at the fishmonger. Which is to say: my fridge is very full right now.
Luckily, the mussels at least are already off my mental list: I froze a bag of french fries from Valentine’s day and we brought those out for a too-big batch of moules-frites, loosely following Kenji’s recipe here. (I did it with beer and creme fraiche and skipped the parsley.) If you haven’t cooked mussels before, put it on your list: they take quite literally 15 minutes, an excellent fancy meal even when you don’t want to fry potatoes to order. I’m considering making a Sunday night ritual.
I ended up roasting the chicken for sandwiches, and after a hatchet job of butchering the mackerel, have that salted up for a variation on Sho Spaeth’s shiozake; tomorrow night, I’ll do Andy Baraghani’s turmeric salmon with kale. I haven’t quite nailed down the plan for the rest of the week yet, but it’s probably going to involve this radicchio salad with anchovy dressing. Stay tuned!
What are you all reading these days? I recently finished (and would highly recommend) Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clarke, which is a quick, intense novella that imagines early 20th century white supremacy spawning monsters of the from-an-alternate-dimension variety. I also loved Katherine Arden’s Russian medieval fantasy trilogy, which starts with The Bear and The Nightingale and shares some story elements with Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver.
Nonfiction-wise, I raced through Emily Oster’s Expecting Better (no, we have no news, I’m just a giant reproductive health nerd) and now I’ve got lots of questions bopping around my head about expertise and authority, both about the medical profession and Oster as an interpreter of it. Conversely, I found Aubrey Gordon’s What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat phenomenally valuable (both as an education in fat activism and for untangling my beliefs about my own weight, worth and health) but occasionally felt frustrated by my inability to evaluate any of the studies cited. I may try to unpack my thoughts about both of these books in a future newsletter, but if you’ve read either of them, I’m curious to hear your thoughts!
I don’t talk too much about TV in this newsletter, but have to put in a plug for Apple TV+’s For All Mankind, an alternate history that imagines what would have happened if the Soviets had landed on the moon first. It’s both nerdy and intensely character-driven, and I am on a mission to get at least one non-Sam person to watch it so I have somebody else to talk about it with. (If it helps convince you to at least get the 7 day free trial, Ted Lasso is as fun and charming as everybody says it is.) While you’re at it, you may as well join me on The Expanse train — maybe by the time season 6 comes out, we’ll be able to host viewing parties again!
A final note: it’s insurance enrollment season again! If you missed Open Enrollment, you’ve got a second shot, in most cases until May 15th. You know the drill - if you’re uninsured, it’s absolutely worth taking 5 minutes to check your options, and I’m here for any and all health insurance questions you might have.
That’s all for now, folks. See you next time — and until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Or if you get this in your inbox, just hit reply!