Playing House: Part One

Warm Barley Salad with Wild Mushrooms and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

hec•tic [hek-tik]
full of incessant activity
frantic, frenzied, wild, chaotic
leisurely, relaxed, unhurried

"Do you know what I'm looking forward to today?" queried My Baby as we woke on Sunday morning. "I'm looking forward to playing house with you today."

After weeks and months of excitedly and consistently being on the go (hectic), it was salve to my heart to commit our entire rainy Sunday as a "play house" day (unhurried). A second pot of coffee and lingering late in our jammies are luxuries even when interspersed with five loads of laundry, brushing burrs from the shaggy coat of Murray the Amazing Wonder Dog, replacing done-in lightbulbs, unpacking from last week's trip and a preliminary shot at 2010 taxes. (Filed jointly this year, I may add.) Home. A productive yet leisurely day at home is so satisfyingly good.

We've grown into the habit of creating something of a slow-food feast on Sundays. We plan for ample leftovers to carry us each forth a few days while I work out of town. This week, a nicely roasted chicken, a rotund stuffed pumpkin and a warm barley and wild mushroom salad with Meyer lemon vinaigrette composed our weekly celebration.

Each of the meal's components were inspired by various cookbooks (Judy Rogers' The Zuni Cafe Cookbook), blogs (Heidi Swansen's 101 Cookbooks and Dorie Greenspan's In the Kitchen and on the Road With Dorie), what the garden is mustering (Swiss chard, red peppers, rosemary, sage and thyme), and what looked beautiful at the market (one shiny, plump red kuri squash and some Meyer lemons. (Meyer lemons this early? A surprise gift for sure.)

I cannot begin to explain the inner delight that overcomes me in composing a menu this way. All the influences of available ingredients, serendipitous inspiration, acquired skills, color, texture, and the palate preferences and/or dietary restrictions of those you're cooking for converge, resulting in a never-again-to-be-repeated-in-exactly-the-same-way bit of performance art. Throw in the vast options of background music and various table settings, and who could ever grow bored at the table, even on a leisurely day at home?

Warm Barley Salad with Wild Mushrooms and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
2 cups pearled barley
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups chopped mixed wild mushrooms (this happened to be chanterelles, shitakes and criminis)
1 red pepper, chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins

Meyer lemon vinaigrette

1/2 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
chopped flat-leaf parsley

Bring chicken stock and wine to boil in medium stockpot. Rinse the barley well, and toss in. Add a pinch of salt, cover, keep at a slow simmer for 40 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat oil. Saute chopped mushrooms until soft and just beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Lightly salt.

Add mushrooms, red pepper, onion and raisins to stock pot and gently stir. Pour vinaigrette over top and mix well. Toss in the pepitas and a handful of chopped parsley, reserving a little of each for garnish.

Serve warm the first time, but room temperature and even chilled is great for the leftovers.

Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
In a recycled jam jar, pour:
juice of one and a half Meyer lemons

Measuring with your eyes, add twice as much (1 part juice to 2 parts oil):
high quality olive oil (I used Stonehouse's Arbequina variety, citrusy in it's own right)

1-2 teaspoons honey, to taste
two hefty pinches kosher or sea salt (about 3/4 teaspoon)
about twice as much freshly ground pepper as you think you need

Screw the lid on tightly and shake well, until salt is dissolved. Viola. Dressing!

Check back, as in the next few days I'll be sharing the details of the creamy, cheesy, spiced stuffed squash, the crispy, herbal, well-browned chicken and it's pan sauce and the wine that so magically topped off this restorative meal.


  1. I cannot wait to hear about the rest! That barley salad sounds so comforting and warm. Perfect considering the season. I like your intro of the definition hectic, it really "paints the picture" of your usual day-to-day and emphasizes the importance of days to stop and just play house. I LOVE those days.

  2. That salad sounds great and I love the vinaigrette, great combo!!

  3. If we are home for a Sunday, we leisurely read the Sunday paper, listen to classical music and soak in the peace of the day. then my usually cooks a magnificent meal, like you did, to get give us a few meals for the week. Isn't "playing house" fun?

  4. That barley and mushroom salad looks and sounds wonderful. I am enjoying spring right now, but have definitely bookmarked this one for that time when cooler weather returns :-)

  5. the stuffed pumpkin looks lovely, what changes did you make from the original recipe?

  6. What a wonderful day!! That barley looks like something I would love, but I will never get a lemon to look as nice as you did!!

  7. The barley and mushroom looks amazing and sounds delicious. The lemon venaigrette seems fresh and delicious :)

  8. That whole dinner looks amazing. Of course, if it were just me an hubby my dream would be to order a pizza so we didn't have to clean up dishes. Then I look at your pictures again and wonder.

  9. Wow! Looks you weren't playing anything.

    I'm glad it is lunch time as hungry as I am.



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