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Recipe For Life

(by Tizzy and Isabel Harbaugh)

Ever since Isabel was a little girl learning to chop vegetables without sacrificing any fingers, we’ve spent so many hours cooking together that we finish each other’s sentences while stirring and tasting. (Tizzy: “I think it needs….” Isabel: “Cumin.”) After years of trading off tasks in our kitchen's tight quarters, we’ve arrived at several mantras that comprise our collective philosophy, and have become a recipe for life.

*Recipes are guidelines, not rules. Our kitchen cabinets are often decorated with snippets from food magazines. But a recipe for Brussels sprouts Caesar or red lentil curry is only the foundation; then we start free-forming—olive oil instead of butter, and definitely extra paprika. (Our signature dish is the mélange—a potpourri of anything we can scrounge from the fridge, pantry, or garden that is only loosely informed by recipes.) It's a conviction that extends into other arenas of life, like travel, when we make sure that an itinerary is never etched in stone, so we can always embrace a new adventure, should it come along.

*Roll with the punches. Kitchen crises are sometimes the best opportunities. Our finest creations often resulted when ingredients were left off the grocery list or walnuts were burnt in the toaster (a common calamity). This philosophy also applies to unexpected guests. Tizzy’s mother was a genius at stretching a menu carefully planned for six guests to accommodate extra friends who happen to drop by. Her freezer was stocked with ice trays of individual Bolognese servings that could quickly be reheated and added to pasta. Now Tizzy always has extra placemats ready, and Isabel has five-minute appetizers for surprise guests.

*Experiences must be savored and shared. Our weekly phone calls are often dominated by intricate descriptions of a savory winter stew or perfect summer salad. Eating is only half the experience; talking about it lets us relive our favorite times together. A mention of crème brûlée transports us to a café in France where we waited an extra hour for a memorable dessert. Food is a narrative thread of our lives, a tie that binds. Now that we live on both sides of the United States, we text pictures of meals, not only drooling over each other’s delicious experiences but staying updated on whom we’re with and what we’re doing. Isabel might send a picture of an innovative dish at a trendy Boston restaurant. Tizzy might send a selfie around the Seattle dining room table. Whether food is prepared together or shared virtually, it helps us stay close.

Spinach and Artichoke Gratin

2 T. unsalted butter

1 large onion, diced

14 oz. can artichokes, drained, tough bits cut off, chopped

16 oz. frozen chopped spinach, cooked in salted water and drained

4 oz. jar pimento (or use sautéed red peppers or roasted red peppers)

1/2 c. sour cream *

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 t. kosher salt (or more to taste)

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, melt butter.

Add onion and sauté until soft and golden.

Add artichokes and cook together for a couple of minutes.

Stir in cooked and drained spinach and remaining ingredients.

Transfer to a lightly greased two-quart casserole and bake for 25 minutes.

If making ahead, refrigerate uncooked casserole.

Remove from refrigerator about an hour ahead and bake for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

*One year at Thanksgiving, we forgot the sour cream and improvised using leftover sauce we'd made for cauliflower. It was so good, we never used plain sour cream again.

Curry Sauce

1 c. chopped onions

1 t. canola or other vegetable oil

1 t. ground cumin

1 t. ground coriander

1/2 t. turmeric

pinch of cayenne, or more to taste

1 c. nonfat yogurt

salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a small skillet, sauté onions in oil until golden, drizzling in a little water if necessary to prevent sticking.

Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, and cook, stirring often, for another two minutes.

Transfer to a blender or food processor, add yogurt, and puree until smooth.

Add salt and pepper to taste.


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