When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: exactly what you want, when and where you want them.
Today: A letter, an empty-out-the-fridge pesto, and a pasta dish to commit to memory.
This morning, you rolled over and yelled out, I want a grilled cheese with pesto in my lunch. And then you added, please. And then you said, but only if that's okay, mom, if not, just make me whatever is easiest. That's when I felt my heart grow too damn big for my chest. It pushed up and made a little lump in my throat. It made the back of my neck tingle.
And that's when I thought, hot damn. That baby girl of mine is going to be okay. I just need to keep letting go.
You probably don't remember, but I spent the first six months of your life holding your teeny screaming body to my chest. While bouncing vigorously on a massive blue exercise ball. Because you thought this world sucked. And you wanted back into my womb. The first time I could put you down without hearing a colicky wail, I sobbed with relief and accomplishment. As if, yes, I have arrived. I am done. I did my work.
But then I had to be brave enough to walk around the corner to make myself a cup of coffee and believe that you would still be alive when I came back.
Then I learned to let go of your hand. Your baby words. Your need to always be by my side.
More and more, lately, I've been jumping ahead to the day that you move out of our house. I have so much more to teach you. How are we going to fit it all in?
So I've decided to start writing things down. Here's my first lesson. And surprise surprise, it involves the kitchen. Start here, and many other things will fall into place:
1. Freeze little bits of everything. Bacon. Tart dough. Half a cookie. Nuts. Coffee. A chunk of parmesan. Pesto. Tomato sauce. Baguette scraps. That way you can throw a dinner together in the middle of the night. You never know.
3. Put lemon zest in everything.
4. Learn to make empty-out-the-fridge pesto. Kale and almonds and manchego. Or arugula and walnuts and goat cheese. Almost any combination works. It is cost effective. It is versatile.
And someday, in your own kitchen, you will find yourself eating pasta with broccolini pesto, crème fraîche, and lemon zest. For breakfast. Like I did this morning. But until then, I will rouse you out of bed, help you search for matching socks, wipe the Nutella off your chin, and tuck your hair behind your ears. Until you slip slip slip out of my fingers into someone else's arms.
For the Broccolini Pesto
1 bunch broccolini, about 10 stalks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, for blanching
1/2 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed arugula
1/3 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted and still warm
1/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and still warm
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon sherry or white wine vinegar
2 anchovies, packed in oil (or more!)
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup fresh and creamy goat cheese
1/2 to 1 cup olive oil (start with 1/2 cup)
Kosher salt to taste
For the pasta
1 teaspoon kosher salt (for pasta water)
1 pound pasta (I use spaghetti)
3/4 cup broccolini pesto
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1/3 cup chopped parsley
Zest strips from 1 lemon
1 cup broccolini florets (save stalks for soup or stock)
Photos by Phyllis Grant