I enjoy the hermit’s life. I need alone time to unplug and unwind. Without my hermiting time, I can get kinda grouchy. But every few months, I give up my weekend of alone time to spend some much-needed together time with one charming Southern gentleman.
There’s a Southwest plane ticket with Matt’s name on it and a Chicago destination, arriving on Friday, February 13. Although I’m not superstitious, Friday the 13th is hardly the sort of day that one wants her man-friend flying the friendly skies. On the days that Matt flies to Chicago, I check his flight status obsessively, pacing nervously and counting the minutes until he lands safely. I practically sprint to meet him, and when we hug, I feel like time stops. If we weren’t standing in the middle of the train station, I would stay just like that, in his arms, for the rest of time.
I’m not sure how it worked out such that we’ll be in the same city on Valentine’s Day. It feels ridiculously cliché to me; I am rolling my eyes at us. But the silliness of this coincidence is so sweet because this is the first Valentine’s Day I hope to spend happily and in love with my special someone. I’ve spent past Valentine’s Days unhappily in love or alone. I’d rather be alone than unhappy, but this year I get the best deal of all. What a novel idea: a happy Valentine’s Day! The whole thing makes me giggle.
The anticipation of Matt’s visit is tickling me with pleasure. I love planning what we might do and what we might eat. As my friend JD eloquently explains, it’s important not to go overboard making plans when you see your special someone after a long time apart. It’s too easy to fill every minute with plans, plans, PLANS! So instead of putting my attention on the entire weekend, I focus intensely on just a few meals…or even just a few ideas for meals, like a savory pie inspired by this recipe. I’m thinking that Matt + cheese + squash + pie crust will be a tasty equation indeed. Matt’s palate makes me weak in the knees, so I can’t wait to see what magic he works with the cheeses in that pie.
That’s roughly how it works when we cook something special together: I provide the template (“Let’s make a savory pie!”) and his mind starts weaving together flavors and textures the same way a loom weaves fibers into cloth. I love being able to watch the process—Matt is an artist with a palate of a thousand flavors. The fact that his creations are edible is almost superfluous because his creativity feeds something deep inside of me that can't be satiated with food. Perhaps this deep inner hunger is really a hunger for art—a meal as poetry, sculpture, painting, love.
Our slow, indulgent dinners are a balm for my soul, a remedy for a world that is always trying to push me to move too fast, do too much. I wish more words were written about the delights of slowing down long enough to find some comfort and pleasure in this life. Sometimes I feel like I’m a character in a movie, and some outside watcher has pushed the fast-forward button, and no matter how fast I move, think, breathe, I can never catch up to myself. The reality is that sometimes life is running on fast-forward, but even so, we can’t afford to not eat well. For me, the way to reset my internal speed to normal is to hide out in the kitchen and cook something nourishing, interesting, and energizing. When Matt has spent his day traveling hundreds of miles so that we might see each other again, I think he deserves a good dinner too.
I have a new weeknight dinner recipe that is settling nicely into my rotation. It sounds rather unassuming—Roasted Broccoli and Tofu—but it is outstanding. I saw its predecessor, Melissa Clark’s Roasted Broccoli with Shrimp, on The Wednesday Chef, my current favorite recipe blog. The Wednesday Chef, Luisa, gushed about how simple and fabulous this dish is, and I immediately longed for a bowl of it, resting on a bed of white rice. But first I’d have to do something about those shrimp since I’m a vegetarian. The kitchen gods were smiling on me that night: tofu worked beautifully and deliciously, providing balance to the bold flavors of roasted broccoli and a few potent Middle Eastern spices. As it roasts, the broccoli becomes tinged with brown and infused with a toasty warmth. It turns chewy, crispy, and salty, adorned with coriander, cumin, and black pepper. The tofu is infused with spices and a light sprinkling of lemon zest; the tofu stays soft and supple, a nice contrast to the more toothsome texture of the broccoli. The broccoli and tofu work together so flawlessly, so harmoniously, that I feel very lucky to have found this recipe.
My own experience with substitutions tells me it’s useful for others to hear about how you don’t have to use shrimp in this dish. You are certainly welcome to do so—I cast no judgments here—but if you are vegetarian or allergic to shrimp or even just watching your pennies these days, the tofu is a great option. It’s fast, cheap, and healthy. I’ll be making a big tray of Roasted Broccoli and Tofu for Matt and me the night of his arrival. The only question remaining is which wine to serve with dinner. For Matt, it isn’t really dinner without wine. While I normally leave the wine-picking to him, I’m very eager to try this wine from Razor’s Edge (a name which still scares me). Asmodeus described the shiraz-grenache blend as “a lovely, floral, caramelly bottle of tastiness,“ a description so marvelous that I almost ran down to Whole Foods that very second to buy my own bottle. Unfortunately, my neighborhood Whole Foods stores don’t have the shiraz-grenache quite yet. Last Friday night, the Whole Foods wine guy found me perusing the bottles and, after asking me what I was trying to find, told me he hoped to have his own stock of Razor’s Edge Shiraz-Grenache in by Tuesday, or Thursday at the latest. The wine guy was adorable, with a clipboard and a playful flirty smile, and the fact that he gave me such good news made me want to buy him a drink on the spot. Maybe I’ll invite him to dinner with Matt and me on Friday. Do you think Matt will mind?
In the meantime, I wish all of you a delightful Valentine’s Day. Flirt with everyone, buy a bottle of wine, share some chocolates, and snuggle into a day devoted to the celebration of love in all its forms. Treat yourself as you want to be treated by a lover, and you’ll find that you have all the love you need in your very own heart. If you’ve got too much love for your own good, find someone with whom to share it. Love grows best when we pass it along to those who need it.
Roasted Broccoli and Tofu
Adapted from this recipe via The Wednesday Chef
Makes 4 servings with rice
The spices really make this dish sparkle. I’m so jealous I didn’t come up with this combination myself! But I’m happy I get to enjoy someone else’s genius here. You have a few options for the preparation of the spices. Here, I chose to grind whole cumin seeds and black peppercorns in my little green mortar. I like the bright fresh flavors that pop out of freshly ground spices. You are, however, welcome to use preground spices as Luisa does, or use whole coriander and cumin seeds and don’t grind them, as the original recipe describes. Any way you do it, make sure the black pepper is freshly ground so it gives this dish a properly spicy kick.
Nonstick cooking spray
2 pounds of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized florets
4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds, freshly ground with a mortar and pestle
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns, freshly ground with a mortar and pestle
1/8 tsp. hot chili powder
1 pound of extra-firm tofu, drained and chopped into bite-sized pieces
Zest of 1 large lemon
Lemon wedges for serving
Several cups of cooked white rice, such as jasmine, for serving (optional)
1) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Spray a large rimmed sheet (I use a 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan) with cooking spray and set aside. In a large bowl, toss the broccoli with 2 tbsp. oil, coriander, cumin, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and the chili powder.
2) Tumble the broccoli onto the prepared baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.
3) While the broccoli is roasting, prepare the tofu: in a large bowl, gently toss the tofu pieces with 2 tbsp. oil, remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, remaining 1/2 tsp. pepper, and lemon zest.
4) After the broccoli has roasted for 10 minutes, gently tumble the tofu into the broccoli florets, toss together gently, and roast for another 10 minutes. At this point, my broccoli has started to brown a bit but it hasn’t burned, and I take it out of the oven. If you’d like your broccoli browner and toastier, roast for a few more minutes, keeping a close eye on things so nothing burns. Serve with lemon wedges over rice. Pat yourself on the back for making such a delicious meal.