I entertain the big questions with frequency but allow them to slide away unanswered with equal frequency, which is one of the 3,798 reasons I should probably never bear children into the world. This is a roundabout way of getting to my point, which is Dear Stephanie, I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. Stephanie wrote me the kindest email weeks ago asking lots of questions, mostly answerable, except for one: How do you do it? In the parallel universe where I actually am “doing it”, I probably also return everyone’s phone calls, eat a decent breakfast more than once a week, drink coffee and wine only occasionally, and have found a natural deodorant that actually works (I’m back on Dove Unscented like a junkie). In that world, I know for a fact that I did not burst into tears last night when the can opener refused to cooperate on a 16-ouncer of San Marzanos.But I did (Ben, to his eternal credit, gently pried the can and opener out of my hands without comment). I generally have my act together so little that I felt phony and undeserving reading Steph’s email, wondering what I could say to this kind human looking for affirmation. You just can’t admit to someone Oh, you know, some days after a rough day at work where I question my life’s direction and the foreign aid industry and then struggle through a two hour commute home, I start crying while I’m cooking dinner over a dysfunctional can opener. That’s how I do it!But it is. It’s how we all do it, muddling through, these little people running around on the face of the earth tearing our hair out trying to make everything right. I would like to exude chill wabi-sabi vibes (nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect), but instead, I am a perfect storm of workaday sweat ethic, Catholic guilt, and big dreamer, wanting to serve and work hard and take care of everything and accomplish much—and then criticizing myself for every missed opportunity, every night I go to bed early, and every dirty dish in the sink to the point of total uselessness.
. . . .
It helps to focus on the low-hanging fruit, I think. Writing a book, for example, not that I would know, is a worthy pursuit, but sometimes you have setbacks, and also, it is effing hard and takes forever and you probably aren’t even writing a book even though you think you are. Now, I’m not saying that the big battles aren’t worth fighting. But there are those small, beautiful tasks in life that are relatively accomplishable.
These things keep me sane. They empower me. Being able to make a quick dinner, for instance, even if it’s just a nice omelette, is one of those tasks: I rarely come home after a crappy day and feel worse after being able to make a 10-minute dinner for Ben and I. (I often feel worse after ordering disappointing pizza.)
Growing radishes, similarly, falls into the category of Easy Work That Makes Me Feel Good. Outranked possibly only by lettuce and greens as easiest veggies to grow, radishes give concrete, harvestable proof, early in the season, that you can indeed grow things. Yes, you. Us! We, the people of the world of the crying-over-can-openers ilk. In about two square feet, I can continuously have about 25 radishes going, and it’s not even hard. Of course, having radishes means that you must do something with them, and after discovering cooked radishes a couple years ago, I’ll roast or braise them all at once, and then save for tossing into salads.
I made this salad for my own dinner one night, and then took we all took it to lunch the next day at work. Just like that (!), I fed myself and Ben and Louise lunch, too.
Small victories, friends. Keep fighting the good fight.
Farro with braised radishes & their greens
There is a little bacon in this recipe, which adds some really nice smoky flavor and depth. For vegetarian friends, I would recommend browning the radishes in butter in the first step as a substitute, and adding some smoked paprika in the step when you add the sugar and vinegar. For vegans, substitute your favorite fat, definitely add the smoked paprika, omit the goat cheese, and try to amp up the umami with some mushrooms along with your radishes—but it will be a different dish.
- 1 cup farro (you can substitute barley or other grains)
- About 10 radishes with greens attached, rinsed well
- 2-4 ounces bacon (this is about 2-3 strips of bacon)
- A few pinches kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup crumbled fresh goat cheese (commonly sold as chevre)
- Black pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the farro, give a quick stir, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the farro is tender but still chewy and retains its shape.
- In the meantime, trim the greens from the radishes. Roughly chop the greens into 1/2-inch pieces. Remove any particularly stemmy parts.
- Trim the radishes at the root and the stem end, and then quarter them.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered and bacon is very crispy, about ten minutes, turning the bacon once. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon or spatula to a plate.
- To the remaining bacon fat, add the radishes, continuing to cook over medium-high heat. Resist moving the radishes for a few minutes—they will brown and caramelize a bit on the sides that have hit the hot pan. After about 4 minutes, or if they start to smoke, stir the radishes. Allow another 4 minutes or so of cooking, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar, salt, and cider vinegar and toss with the radishes, and continue to cook until the radishes are coated with the glaze-y mixture. Add the chopped radishes greens, toss with radishes until they are coated as well, and remove from heat. The radish greens will continue to wilt and cook.
- After it is cooked, drain the farro in a colander and give it a quick rinse in cool water (this is meant to be a warm salad, not a hot one). Shake the colander very well to get out as much water as possible. Transfer the farro to a bowl or platter.
- Crumble the bacon over the farro. Add the radishes and their greens, parsley, goat cheese, and any remaining fat or liquid in the skillet. Toss the salad. Taste for salt and pepper and season (it will likely need both).
- Enjoy warm or cold. Keeps well, covered, in the refrigerator for several days.