August 14, 2009


The first thing to know about Dan is that he is nice to children.

He loves food and cooking, too, natch, but he is an elementary-school teacher with a compassionate, generous soul, and he came to my house to cook and ended up discussing books with my daughter.

Other interesting things to know about Dan: he built his own house; he’s a vegetarian who craves pastrami; and, get this, he says he never feels food guilt. What the hell? Is that a man thing? Barbecue chips, vegetarian Slim Jims, chocolate, LOTS of chocolate—Dan runs through a short list of foods he loves to eat even though he knows they’re not so good for him, but guilt? Not a shred.

He grew up watching his mom make chicken parmesan, baked beans, brisket, and hamentaschen (three-cornered, fruity pastries). Oh, and she worked full-time, too. “She was a good cook,” Dan says. “And it couldn’t have been easy.” He was the youngest of four boys—four constantly hungry boys. “There’s a reason I eat as fast as I do," he says. "If you didn’t get to seconds early, you didn’t get seconds.”

When Dan was in elementary school, he was the family’s go-to guy for making Passover charoset, the chopped-apple mixture that symbolizes mortar during the Seder meal. He didn’t really start cooking until college, though. He went through a Molly Katzen phase (one of the original Moosewood-ians), which manifested itself in many bowls of black bean soup. Gradually, Dan recognized that the process of cooking was, for him, a form of relaxation. “It totally de-stresses me," he says. "As long as there’s no one else in the kitchen. I don’t really like help.”

What he does like is cooking seasonally, which sounds all idyllic and Alice-Waters-y, but for Dan it means lots of fresh vegetables from his CSA in the summer and peanut butter cake in the winter. Right now the rain has eased up in southern Vermont and gardens have come alive, so Dan is sighing contentedly and envisioning dishes like roasted beets with a balsamic-molasses glaze and crumbled goat cheese, or a Thai noodle salad with carrots and snap peas. He likes a sweet-savory blend of flavors; “I think raisins taste good in a lot of things,” he says. He even claims hummus on banana bread is a worthy combo, but I'm afraid I may have to draw the line at that one.

Instead, try the noodle salad. It's inspired by the “Thai spaghetti” that Dan used to eat in a tiny Thai restaurant in Portland, Maine, nearly a decade ago. For those of us who are incapable of sticking to a recipe, it's a welcome model of flexibility: the herbs and veggies can be swapped around or increased, tofu or another chopped-up protein could be added, and any thoughts of precise measuring should be tossed out the window. “I cook, I taste, I cook, I taste,” Dan says. When the salad tastes like he remembers, it’s done.

[Rice noodle sala

1/2 lb. quarter-inch-wide rice noodles
1 carrot, julienned
a really big handful peapods (a scant cup)
3 scallions, chopped
fresh herbs, approximately 5 Tbsp. (Dan used 3 Tbsp. chopped mint and a scant 2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro, but you could include some fresh basil in the mix as well)
1/2 cup lime juice
3/4 cup Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce

(Dan also likes to include thinly sliced cabbage, about 1/4 head. And add a little soy sauce if you like a saltier taste.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain and cool completely. (Here's my back-seat-driver suggestion: rinse the noodles in cold water once or twice while they're cooling so they don't clump together.) In a bowl, place the noodles, chopped veggies, and herbs. Combine the lime juice and sweet chili sauce in a separate bowl and then add to the noodles, tossing gently to mix. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Dan says, “It should taste really lime-y.”

1 comment:

  1. Boy, am I glad to hear that Dan doesn't have to be nice to anyone in his kitchen, because he sure does spend all day being wonderful with the kids in his classroom!