I've been in a bit of a cooking funk lately. I can't seem to get myself to the market very often, and when I do, I come home missing an ingredient or two, and then can't force myself out again to retrieve them. Meals have mostly been eaten out or foisted upon me by friends with leftovers to spare. I have to admit, I'm actually enjoying the break. More time for other things, such as a hot tub and sauna night at Piedmont Springs in Oakland. Delightful! Living in an apartment building has it's disadvantages. Lack of hot tub is one of them, so it's very refreshing to know that tucked away on Piedmont Avenue, there is a small oasis of outdoor, private redwood tubs which can be yours for one hour, for about the price of two cocktails.
It's a bargain. Add a few minutes in the sauna, and I'm a happy camper. Maybe someday I'll spring for the massage as well.
But I have a confession. I have been spoiled when it comes to hot tubs. In college, my roommate Beth and I lucked out with a ridiculously perfect house, 4 blocks from school, complete with wrap-around deck and hot tub. In case you were wondering: studying for finals is not too strenuous when up to your neck in 103 degree water. It is also rather easy for the party to come to you, when you are the gate-keeper of a hot tub. Party attendance was always more than we expected, but our hot tub space was always reserved.
After college, when I moved in with my friend Ilsa, I lucked out once again, with a large redwood hot tub in our yard in Berkeley. I wish I could say I'd enjoyed that tub more, but our hot tub fun was cut short when we found a family of opossums living under said tub. Let me tell you, those things are mean as hell. They hiss! Sitting up to your neck in 103 degree water is considerably less relaxing when being circled by hissing opossums.
Luckily, there are no rodents of unusual size (or regular size for that matter) at Piedmont Springs. Nor are there gangs of rowdy college kids. Just pure, private relaxation in the middle of the city. Happiness. Sheer happiness.
So now, to extend my relaxed, meditative state, I'm off on a road trip up North for my Sister's 40th birthday. We'll see if this cooking funk continues. I'm happy to trade my tiny kitchen for the open road, a Superbird Sandwich from Grenzellas on I5, all of my favorite restaurants in Ashland, Oregon, and, what is sure to be some superb family cooking. Cooking for 14 people is always a bit of a challenge. I suspect we'll be combining forces.
Until I'm back, I leave you with a single, simple recipe. For an evening when cooking needs to be minimal, without fuss. There's nothing more satisfying than a simple lentil salad. And Alice Waters has the best simple recipe I know. A few tweaks here and there to make it your own, you can throw in just about anything you have on hand. It's hard to ruin lentil salad, and the red wine vinaigrette is so perfect on this. It's what to cook when you don't want to cook.
adapted from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food
1 cup lentils, sorted and rinsed (Alice recommends French Green or Black Beluga, I had brown lentils on hand and they worked just fine.)
1/2 cup carrot, diced
1/2 cup potatoes, diced
1/2 lb spinach
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt & fresh-ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 finely diced shallots
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Bring the lentils to boil in about 3 inches of boiling water. Simmer and cook until tender, it should take about 30 minutes. Drain, and reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Set liquid and lentils aside.
Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan, and saute the shallots, carrots, and potatoes until tender. Add the spinach to wilt. Stir in the parsley and remove from heat.
Toss the lentils and vegetables together with red wine vinegar, salt & pepper and the 2 remaining tablespoons of olive oil. If the lentils seem dry, add a bit of the cooking liquid. Serve room temperature or cold.