Cardamom Cilantro Fairytale Eggplants. F is for Fairytale.

I am aware that I may isolate many sane readers who will question the practicality of buying many miniature eggplants.  Especially as they are preciously named after a childhood ideal that conjures up strong, white steeds and ladies with impossible hair.  Furthermore, I suspect at first pass my addition of vanilla is not going to win over very many hearts.

Bear with me.  My thirty-one years have left me nothing if not at least a little wiser.  And also comfortably aware that most of the bow-tied stories we sell are hooey. Unless, of course, your fantasy includes a woman alone in the kitchen with an eggplant à la Laurie Colwin-style.  Then you’ve got a real shot, friend. (Unless, of course, you have children.  Then your chances are probably back to make-believe.)

The fairytale eggplant is a facsimile of your standard aubergine, except it’s shrunken to an eighth its size and is often found violet-hued, antiqued with white streaks.  When cooked, they collapse and shrivel slightly away from their skin, poetically turning brown along the way.

I find them much simpler to manage than the football-shaped grocery store Italian variety. Which makes them fast charmers.  They are a low grill risk for becoming charred beyond pleasurable consumption and simultaneously tough.  They are not bitter. Their skins are thin and edible and their flesh, soft.

Thus, no salting, no skinning, and minimal swearing in the kitchen.  So I prefer them, despite their name.  And there may come a time when you find yourself face to face with some.  You’ll want to be ready. 

I have a fairly standard vegetable treatment, which includes olive oil, more salt than recommended by the American Heart Association, fresh lime, and cilantro.  If you have cardamom and cumin, it's wise to employ them.  And—I swear—adding a little vanilla adds intensity and softness, especially paired with the smokiness of the grill. 

Since I am without open flames this summer, I can assure roasting will do in a pinch.  What should result is small, slumped, deeply flavored eggplants.  They are good hot out of the pan. They are wonderful eaten all by their lonesome.  Or on toast.  And probably sing tossed into a cold pasta salad.  When chilled they act as a marinated vegetable and behave wonderfully this way.

So you make the marinade.  You toss the fairytales.  You roast.  You eat.  And you all live happily ever after. At least until it's time to do the dishes.

Cardamom Cilantro Fairytale Eggplants


10 fairytale eggplants, sliced lengthwise
juice of ½ a lime
5 or 6 cardamom pods, shells smashed and discarded and seeds ground
pinch cumin seed, ground
4 to 6 tbsp olive oil (start with less and add more as needed)
kosher salt, to taste
3 to 4 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
½ tsp vanilla extract 
splash of orange blossom or rosewater


Set the oven to 425 degrees.  In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, spices, olive oil, and pinch of salt.  Add in the cilantro and remaining extracts.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.

On a sheet pan, toss the eggplant halves well in the marinade until fully covered and glossy. (You’ll need enough oil so they can slide around to help prevent sticking to the pan.)  Sprinkle a bit more salt over them.

Roast for about 30 minutes, until they are tender, have turned brown, and are starting to slightly shrivel.

Serve warm or chilled.

Makes enough for about 4 as a side

-I usually leave the stems on, but wouldn’t recommend eating them.  Quite woody.

-If you don’t have whole cardamom you can use ground; start with a pinch.  I use a mortar and pestle to do the smashing and grinding for both the cardamom and cumin seed.


Rosemary Focaccia, Built to Roam

It’s 8:13 AM.  On the street below a man is hosing down the entryway to a shrine for Saint Agrippina, garnished with over forty red roses.  There has been an Italian feast here in Boston’s North End, waging a war of sweets, meats, and muddied acoustics outside my window for days. 

The best way to describe it is to call to mind a state fair; the Great New York State Fair is my reference point.  Except picture more teeth and truncated consonants and swap out the secular wine slushies and spiedies for tents filled with blessed arancini balls and cannoli shells.

The smell of things fried in oil wafting up to a bedroom window may sound charming.  It can be.  The sound of when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie while cooking dinner may sound romantic.  It can be. 

The resonance of a cover of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” at 10:15 PM when you are trying to sleep is neither charming, nor romantic.  Especially when it is not—in fact—the last dance of the evening.  Under the auspices of broken promises, the age of disco continues to rage for another half hour.

For most of July, I took things to the limit traveling up and down the northeastern coast to the Cape, Vermont, and Rhode Island.  Trampling across beaches, up mountains, and settling on green grass to listen to banjos and acoustic guitars.

I mention this because during these weekends away from the city I’ve felt stronger, often on less sleep, and more booze. I also found myself reflecting a good deal as, I think, traveling tends to nudge. There are things to help this process if you are willing to listen and open wide.

Recently, this has included a Texas gentleman who goes by the name Shakey Graves.  I saw him in Newport last weekend at the epic folk festival. His gritty, soulful lyrics are matched by his lone guitar and suitcase kick drum.  And I haven’t felt this way about music since I was thirteen and discovering The Beatles for the first time. 

The man can sing.

So sit back and watch me go
Bored and lazy
Yeah, watch me go, just passin’ through
Follow me beyond the mountain
Yeah go howl at the ol’ big moon
Oh strip them clothes right from your body
Dress your skin in sticks and stones
Doesn’t matter where we’re headed oh
Yeah cause some of us were built
Yeah, well, some of us were built
Yeah, well you know that some of us
Oh we were built to roam

So there’s that. 

There’s also been this here focaccia that has done its fair share of traveling.  To Barnstable County accompanying pan-fried fish and a tomato casserole.  To Newport alongside smashed avocado and six-minute eggs.  To a motor lodge with cheese from a farm in Vermont with rosé drank from Styrofoam cups. To my beloved wineshop on Hanover Street because those wonderful folks deserve good bread.

It goes most places, easily. With pockets of olive oil in its open crevices.  Seasoned with pins from a spindly rosemary plant I’ve had for a scant decade.  It’s soft, and chewy, and incredibly simple.  The recipe is worth holding tightly to and the focaccia slab is suitable to share with as many people as you can.

I’m not spiritual in the sense of god, or saints, or shrines.  But I do believe in the power of an acoustic guitar and of things made of flour and of heart.  And for me, right now, that’s enough to fill a soul full.

Rosemary Focaccia


6¼ cups (915g) all-purpose flour, sifted
2 scant tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp instant yeast
3½ cups warm water (a little warmer than room temperature)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan and to drizzle overtop
pinch coarse sea salt
pinch red pepper flakes
2 to 3 tsp minced fresh rosemary


In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast; add the warm water and stir until all the flour is incorporated and a sticky dough forms.  In a 6-quart container (the bowl of most Kitchen Aids will do) pour in ¼ cup olive oil.

Pour the dough on top of the olive oil and scoop a little oil that pools at the sides of the bowl over top. (It will look like you’ve made a terrible mistake here, the dough will be very loose, almost like porridge.) Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days (I’ve been averaging about 24 hours).  The dough will rise and puff up.

When ready to bake, take the dough from the fridge, oil a baking sheet (about 18 x 13), and pour the dough onto your prepared pan.  Using your hands, spread the dough gently out to the corners, or as close as you can get it.  Let the dough rise until it roughly doubles in volume (about 1 hour).  It is ready when it is puffed up and spread out. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine a tablespoon or two of olive oil with a pinch of red pepper and salt, plus the rosemary. 

Set the oven to 450 degrees.  Make a number of indentations in the puffed dough with your fingers, like you are playing the piano.  Give the olive oil mixture a quick stir and drizzle it evenly over the top of the focaccia, allowing it to pool in the dimples created.

Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the top turns golden brown.  Let cool on a wire rack and then cut into slices in the pan.

Makes enough for 12 sandwiches (or 24 narrow strips for snacking)

-Start this recipe a day ahead.  This may seem annoying, but it’s not a lot of work: there's no kneading.

-The focaccia will last up to 2 days sealed in a plastic bag on the countertop.  If you won’t use all of it right away, it freezes brilliantly.  (If you want it for sandwiches, slice before freezing.)

-See Shakey sing. (Lyrics from "Built to Roam.")