Spicy Potatoes with Spinach

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A lot has changed since my last post: I finally went to Harry Potter land, I turned 24, and my whole family fit into our one-bedroom apartment for a couple days. Oh, and our country elected a psychopath. But I won’t rant about that; I think we’ve all thought enough about the election for the time being. Though I have much to say on the matter—and many of it said at levels extremely inappropriate for a library—I just want the dust to settle. As Hagrid so wisely said, “There’s no use worryin’ about it! What’s comin’, will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.”

Speaking of Harry Potter, last week Jonji surprised me with a visit to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. Armed with my film camera, we walked around the shops, excitedly pointing out all of the products and details that we recognized from various books. I grumbled about a couple of mistakes employees made in answering customer’s questions (it’s “the constipation sensation that’s GRIPPING the nation,” not “sweeping the nation,” obviously), but enjoyed the experience nonetheless. After a trip to Ollivander’s, where we lost a little more faith in humanity as one woman obliviously pointed her phone flashlight right at poor Ollivander’s face, we journeyed to Hagrid’s hut for the Buckbeak ride. Finally, we entered the castle to ride the 3D adventure. The castle was well done, and despite the many “Do not ride if you get motion sick” signs, we stayed in line. A minute into the ride, I was forced to look down at my own lap and pray that the ride stopped very soon. After another few torturous minutes which seemed an eternity, we were let off. I spent the next 45 minutes on a bench, staring at the ground or else risk feeling nauseous just watching people walk by.

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After that joyous experience, we went for lunch in the Three Broomsticks. On our way out, we stopped for some iced butterbeer. My review? It’s ok if you like really sweet drinks and/or fake-butterscotch taste. But I also could have been negatively influenced by my still-nauseous state. Before calling it a day we went down to the Jurassic Park ride as a last hurrah, which was very fun and not at all sickening.

The next evening Jonji once again surprised me with a date night at Lucques for Sunday Supper. We pretended to know a thing or two about wine as our waiter excitedly explained pairings, and I settled on a glass of Reisling from a 13th-century monk-run winery. Pretty cool. We spent a lovely evening eating phenomenal carrots and beets with labneh and za’atar, followed by pork for Jonji and trout for me, and, finally, a zingy coconut-lime panna cotta with citrus sorbet.

The following Thursday I went to school as usual, then waited for a couple of hours until Mom and Bailey landed at LAX. I sat in the car, sweating, as I watched the pick-up line monitors walking towards me, inwardly exploding with rage at Mom who just had to go the bathroom after landing, until they finally ran up. We drove the short way back to Otis, where Dad and Emma met us a few minutes after. I gave them a brief tour of the newly improved campus, and then we all piled into the two cars and drove home.

After a coffee and shopping outing on Abbot Kinney, we made our slow way home to make dinner. Jonji arrived and, while I cooked pulled chicken and Spanish rice, modeled a series of outfits for his upcoming conference in Seattle. With minimal fighting between me and Smaug and a glass of wine for each of us, we finally got dinner cooked and ready. We all sat down to feast, Bailey perching on Kitty’s scratching post due to the fact that we only have five chairs. After eating our fill, Dad attacked the dishes (as usual) and we all got ready for bed. Somehow we managed to fit four adults and a cat in our living room, at least semi-comfortably.

The next day, feeling no different as a 24-year-old due to my already 80-year-old state of mind, I woke up early for a morning trip to the gym. Mom glared at all of us the whole time since we’d forced her to take the day off after five days in a row. Afterward, we rushed home to shower before venturing over to Sqirl for a late breakfast. After assuring everyone that, yes, the line was long and, no, we were not leaving, we settled down to wait. Sooner than we’d thought, we made it to the front of the line and ordered. After securing three small tables outside, we proceeded to devour some delicious chocolate-blackberry loaf and some of the best scones, served with butter and jam, that I have ever had.

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We sipped coffee, ate our perspective meals, and discussed the random pieces of information that only those who know each other best can be interested in. As the meal came to a close, Bailey literally began shaking with rage as a couple of people waiting to eat started inching closer to our table and talking loudly in an attempt to make us leave. We managed to extract her from the situation with only dirty looks hurled their way, but it was a close call.

Mom and I drove Jonji to the airport on our way home, then joined the others. With Mom’s help, I made a 4-inch cinnamon chocolate cake for later. Once that was cooling on racks, we left for an early dinner at Local, a place we’d found on Yelp. The place was very quiet, given that we’d arrived right as it opened, and we got drinks and appetizers to start. We all realized how fierce we are with food—as each dish arrived, we were not polite about who got which bite. There’s no, “Oh no, you have the biggest bite” at our table. The best part of the meal, in my opinion, was the sweet potato, guanciale, and chili honey pizza.

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After picking up ice cream on the way home, I iced the mini cake. Since we lacked birthday candles, I simply blew out the beeswax tapers on the table after Mom, Dad, Bailey, and Emma sang. We devoured our slices of cake and still left a decent piece for leftovers. After debating whether I should change Babs’s name to something more fierce, like Olga, Svetlana, or Vfhuh-Vfhuh-Vfhuh (don’t ask), we all got ready for bed.

The next morning we ran stairs close to our apartment, then came home to make breakfast and coffee. Sadly, yet inevitably, they soon had to leave. As I stood in the door, waving goodbye to my whole family, I felt the strongest urge to move back North. I can only hope that Jonji’s residency ends up close to Santa Cruz. Until then, in LA we stay.

That evening I drove to Shauna’s to meet her, Kelly, and Tim. We went to Home, a nearby restaurant, where, as I’d promised them, I watched them eat as I sipped a delicious gin cocktail. Our waitress shocked and delighted us all when she set a mini chocolate brownie cake with a candle in it in front of me. After a few moments during which we all wondered how the heck the waitress could have known, Kelly said, excitedly, “It was her birthday yesterday!” The waitress explained, “I saw you guys passing a couple of cards and assumed it was someone’s birthday.” As we left the restaurant, still beaming, we agreed that the waitress had just gone down in cousin history (and there’s no coming out of that). After a few games of Bananagrams back at Shauna’s, I drove home to Babs and Kitty.

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Birthday celebrations now over, real life took priority once again. I have four more weeks until this semester is over, which means everything is starting to get a bit crazy. Jonji is on his Psychiatry rotation, which means he gets more sleep and is, therefore, enjoying life much more than before. The days are getting colder (relatively, for LA), night rolls in earlier than before, and my mind is turning to chocolate, pumpkin, and cinnamon.

I have been trying to branch out with my cooking, going for spicier and slightly more daring dishes. Maybe it’s the faint chill in the air. One recipe that was a huge hit for us was Nigel Slater’s Potatoes with Spices and Spinach in his little book, Eat. I could never have fed this to my family—Mom and Bailey’s mouths would have exploded—but it’s really not that bad. They’re just incredibly sensitive to any spiciness. Serving the potatoes with yogurt cools the spice-factor down. If you, too, are feeling the seasons change, this one will warm you right up.

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Spicy Potatoes with Spinach
serves 4–5 • adapted from Eat by Nigel Slater

5–6 yellow, starchy potatoes, cleaned

5 shallots, peeled and quartered
1 chile de Arbol, crumbled (or 1 tsp red pepper flakes)
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 1/4 tsp salt
pepper
olive oil

3–4 large handfuls spinach, cleaned

handful of cilantro
yogurt, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Slice the potatoes into thick chunks and put in a large pot with plenty of cold water and a bit of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, grind the garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle until you have a paste. Put the drained potatoes in a large bowl and sprinkle with the chile de Arbol or pepper flakes, turmeric, cayenne, and cumin. Stir, then mix in the shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, and 4–6 tbsp olive oil and stir together. Spread onto a large baking sheet and bake for 20 or so minutes, until crispy (you may need to stir them once or twice during baking).

As the potatoes bake, place a pan over medium heat. Add a tiny bit of olive oil, then toss in the spinach. Cook, covered, for a couple minutes, until wilted. Stir a couple times to ensure even cooking. Sprinkle with a little salt and set aside.

Take the potatoes out of the oven and toss with the spinach and a handful of roughly chopped cilantro. Serve with a drizzle of yogurt on top, plus more on the table. Enjoy!

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