His friends call him Chala, a nickname from his high school and college days as a soccer player. I call him by his given name, Christian. The ending of Christian’s soccer seasons, my retirement as a spectator, and his hiatus from employment, prompted a question: what could we do together?
Cook! We both like to eat healthily. Since January, we have stirred up over 30 dishes including soufiko, spanakopita, a cashew-based broccoli soup, and french bread made over a 24-hour period. We try foods we’ve never heard of, like miso and shishito peppers, from places unknown to us, like Ikaria and the Nicoya Penisula.
You may recognize Ikaria, Greece, and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica if you’re familiar with Dan Buettner’s 2019 cookbook The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to LIve to 100. Fifteen years ago, Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, along with other experts, set out to find places on earth with high percentages of centenarians. Buettner circled each location in blue. As well as Greece and Costa Rica, Blue Zones include Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, and Loma Linda, California. As an individual who’s set a longevity target date of 2043, I love this cookbook and recommend that you add it to your collection, in addition to accessing Blue Zone recipes online.
We are creative—if I do say so myself—and we like to learn, attested to by the blog’s tagline that Christian created using our initials: Crafting Cooking, Loving Learning. The L.L. stands for me, Christian’s grandmother, a writer and former librarian. We begin every cooking day with a book Christian introduced to me, from which he reads aloud: 101 Healing Stories: Using Metaphors in Therapy by George W. Burns. We extract meaning or simple pieces of advice like “change what you can” or “keep the big picture in sight.”
Our kitchen has been the Chala family kitchen, a modest space probably similar to yours. By my practical daughter’s choice, the countertops are clear of clutter. Extra appliances are stowed elsewhere. The number of utensils is limited to Just the Right Ones; they live in assigned drawers. Dishes rarely pile up in the sink. Christian’s and my duties are fluid, but I often chop and clean up, while Christian mixes, processes and seasons.
Then we choose a recipe, make a list of ingredients, and go to the grocery store for what we don’t have–at least that’s what we did before sheltering-in-place occurred. As we exited the store, after our first groceries run, I grabbed the other handle of a heavy bag Christian was carrying. He said, “What if this is a metaphor for us?”
I’m still thinking about that.
We love shopping, wondering what people do with weirdo vegetables like dragon fruit and celery root. We stash them away in memory for future culinary play. The luxury of frequent market explorations was dashed when COVID-19 came along and changed the landscape of all our lives. I thought we might have to shutter in-person cooking, but Christian’s mom, Leslie, came up with another idea: a six-foot table, a chair at each end, positioned in the garage. They moved a BBQ and a smoker onto the garage driveway. Christian uses the indoor oven if needed; I stay in the garage. Social distance does not prevent smiles, conversation, or food preparation.
Please join us for short occasional posts. Find out how we transformed a bland tofu steak with Yum Yum Sauce. Learn, as we did, about the way women of the Achua tribe in Ecuador prepare yuca. For now, read the recipe below and look for how flat Italian parsley, rather than the common curly kind, made a difference. Also: I’ve made pesto with pine nuts often, but as Christian said, “This one with walnuts–it’s the best.”
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Pesto Pasta with Nut & Parsley Pesto
- 3/4 cup walnuts
- 1 lb. pasta (we used spaghetti)
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped or run through a press
- 2 T. fresh Italian parsley*
- 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 T. salt
- 1 c. freshly grated romano cheese
- GRIND the walnuts in a food processor.
- COOK the spaghetti or pasta of your choice according to package directions, reserving 1/2 cup water.
- SAUTE nuts, garlic, and parsley in olive oil over low heat, about 8 minutes. (*Flat-leaf Italian parsley is much tangier and more flavorful than the regular grocery store variety. We tried both.)
- MIX pasta into the sauce.
- ADD cooking water to desired consistency.
- SPRINKLE with romano cheese and serve.