Dinner and daydreams

Sometimes, when we are particularly tired of our current jobs, or when we have thrown a particularly successful dinner party, we daydream about what it would be like to open a restaurant or food truck. While we always agree that we would want the establishment to be tiny, the type of cuisine we would feature or what meals we would serve vary. I usually fantasize about a little bakery loosely modeled on a place we fell in love with when vacationing in Austin years ago. I would serve granola and a tightly curated list of pastries in the mornings, pie and large pretzels in the afternoon. I joke that I would name it after our hypothetical future cat, Mr Snuggles, and ideally bring said hypothetical cat to work with me to help entertain patrons (health code laws have no place in daydreams). Dennis usually dreams about a dumpling place, but with a multicultural twist. Occasionally, though, we dream about a joint venture, a homemade noodle place in either nearby Adams Morgan or along 14th Street that we would name ‘Noods, Noods, Noods.’

For those who don’t live here, Adams Morgan is a mix of a neighboorhood – filled with quiet brick rowhouses on one street and bars that cater to the fresh-from-college set next to jumbo-slice pizza places on the next. We envision our noodle bar in the middle of it all, catering to young families looking for a quick dinner in the early evening and partiers looking for something to soak up the booze by night. We would advertise with a giant neon sign featuring our name and a huge arrow, beckoning toward the door. If you have ever been around Adams Morgan or 14th Street past 10PM the brilliance of this concept will be clear. In a nod to Dennis’ vision we would feature noodles from several culinary backgrounds – we would have someone pulling traditional Chinese noodles by hand in a large glass front window, below the sign, but would also feature traditional Italian pastas. We would rotate toppings with the seasons, featuring fresh primavera styles in the spring and summer, heartier sauces in the fall and winter.

Given the detail of this fantasy, you may think that we regularly churn out bowls of silky homemade noodles. Alas, we do not. Though we both love homemade pasta, it is simply too much mess, time, carbs for an average weekday. Homemade sauce though, I always make time for.

Red sauce

  • 1 large can whole tomatoes (28 oz, I believe)
  • 1 large yellow onion, julienned or diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ~3T red wine
  • 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fresh thyme, oregano, rosemary, to taste

Add ~2T of canola oil or butter to a medium pot. When pot and oil/butter are heated thoroughly, add the onion. Cook until onion is lightly caramelized. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, cook for 1-2 minutes while stirring frequently. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan, loosening all browned bits. Add the tomatoes and their juices, crushing the whole tomatoes with your hands or a potato masher (warning about using the potato masher – they will shoot juice all over the kitchen if you don’t use a gentle hand). Add fresh herbs. Bring mixture to a simmer and let cook until thoroughly heated and until somewhat thickened (aim for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to fully meld). Remove from heat, add salt to taste. Serve over pasta, or just eat straight from the pan with a spoon (not that I’ve ever done that…).

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On Trees and Resilience

There’s an old tree in the backyard of my childhood home. It was there when we first moved in. It still stands there now. Every year it’s a family affair to trim back its branches and gather up all the orange and brown leaves that it has strewn across the yard. By the end of the afternoon, it sits there with its new haircut, looking a bare and forlorn for the winter.

***

I like the Emergency Department a lot. It might be busy  and chaotic at times, but things are always moving and progressing towards a goal. A lot of problems we can fix. Urinary tract infections or ear infections get antibiotics. Sprains might get splinted. Fractures get a colorful cast from orthopedics. These kids feel better and go home.

Then there are others. A tired child has leukemia. A headache turns out to be a brain tumor. Whether the universe knows or word spreads across the ED staff, time seems to stop. My phone is silent for the first time the entire shift. I walk with the parents to a private room and draw the curtains. We sit down, and I prepare to deliver the news. In those moments, even the most stoic of parents shake uncontrollably with emotion. Sometimes there are a lot of questions, and sometimes there is only shock.

I think it’s disingenuous for me to pretend like I can even come close to fathoming what it feels like to be told that your child has cancer, but I can speak a little about the impact of these moments on a physician. There are times when I feel like our job is inhuman. After disclosing earth-shattering diagnoses like this, we sit with the family to offer comfort and support but after that we are expected to immediately get back to work. There is no time to process the gravity of what we just did so we spend the rest of the shift in a daze. The daze can extend into the next few days. We find ourselves crying on the way home from work in the car or sobbing randomly at dinner the following day. Fuck Cancer.

I asked a senior physician, “Does this get any easier?” He replied, “We went into medicine because we care about our patients and their families. You learn to develop your approach to delivering the bad news so in that sense it gets easier. But otherwise, it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t.”

***

A few years ago as I scaled the tree in the backyard for its annual trimming, I noticed something. The main branches were covered in knots and gnarls. Remnants from when we had trimmed in the past. The trunk had also literally grown around and past where we had tied a laundry line to it when we had first moved in. Despite everything, it was still finding ways to grow, to thrive, and to shoot out its branches and leaves and reach for the sun.

The Original Hot Pockets

I never cared much for pita until I had a taste of the stuff produced in the wood ovens of Shaya, a much buzzed-about Israeli restaurant in New Orleans. Where most grocery store pita bread is dry and sandpaper-y, the rounds at Shaya are pillowy and have a good chew to them. I easily ate five all by myself and left the restaurant determined to figure out how to make my own. Over the following months, I had several fairly successful pita-making runs with the NYTimes recipe, but felt that there was room for improvement – I found the dough a bit soft and sticky and had trouble rolling it into even rounds and transferring it to the oven. That said, the pita did have great texture and a moist crumb, making me hesitant to toy around with adding more flour.

After all of this lead-up, I was super excited to have the opportunity to spend Monday morning making pita in a class led by Richard Miscovich, a renowned artisan bread baker. While I doubt I will ever again replicate the degree of precision I was encouraged to strive for in Chef Miscovich’s classroom (we used an equation to determine the ideal temperature of the water added to the dough that involved taking into account the amount of heat generated by the mixer…), I left with a great recipe that we will definitely make again at home.

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‘Pita in motion’ – an attempt to break up the unfortunate beige-on-beige color scheme we have going on. Photography will improve when we get home… we hope.

Pita Bread

  • 350g bread flour
  • 350g whole wheat flour
  • 2.1 g instant rise yeast
  • 12 g salt
  • 476g water
  1. Mix the flour and water together in a bowl, cover and set aside for 20 min (this allows the flour to hydrate).
  2. Add the salt and yeast and mix until combined. If kneading by hand, turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for ~5 minutes; if kneading with a mixer and dough hook, turn up the speed to medium for ~3 minutes.
  3. Transfer dough to a container lightly coated with some sort of non-stick or oil spray, cover, and let rest for 45 min.
  4. Turn out the dough onto a work surface and press into a large square/rectangle (aim for roughly 12in x 12in). Fold the dough as if you were making an envelope from a blank piece of paper (lift the left side of the square and pull it over the remaining square until it covers 2/3, then fold the right side of the dough over your first fold). Rotate the folded dough rectangle 90 degrees and fold again, following the same procedure. Return the folded dough to the container to proof for another 45 min.
  5. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and separate the dough into 12 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball, set aside, cover, and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
  6. Roll each ball of dough into a circle about 1/8″ thick (note – if the dough seems to resist rolling, springing back after each pass, simply let it rest a bit longer). Cover, let rest 10-20 minutes.
  7. Pre-heat oven to 500°F with a ceramic baking tile or inverted sheet pan inside.
  8. Transfer dough rounds to the baking tile or sheet pan, bake for 3-4 minutes.
  9. Either enjoy pita hot, or allow pita to cool completely before storing. If storing, make sure your container is air-tight – pita has the potential to dry out quickly.

S

 

What’s in a name

‘Renmaicha’ is a play on our last name, ‘Ren’, and the Japanese term ‘genmaicha.’

Genmaicha is a brown rice tea, colloquially referred to as ‘popcorn tea’ because some of the grains of rice pop during roasting, resembling popcorn*. This tea is also known as ‘people’s tea’ as it is consumed by all segments of society. Wikipedia describes it as “satisfying full body…eminently drinkable, relaxing, and soothing to the stomach.”

Our aim in writing this is to provide simple, accessible, and delicious recipes and tell you tales that represent both the best of the cultural heritages we were born into and those we have adopted along the way.

*Sarah is also obsessed with popcorn.