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Eli's Pesto

The weird dreams come on like clockwork. But I don't always make the connection. I blame it on the spicy food I had for dinner the night before. Or hormones - because every woman my age blames everything on hormones. Then I start planning the meals. Charlie, the eldest, is the vegetarian so no meat. Cate loves pork chops and applesauce, so I go by the butcher to get the really good meat and start peeling apples. Eli -- the devilishly handsome middle child -- loves Caprese sandwiches, so I'm growing basil. Preparing meals for them gives me order and purpose. I have control in the kitchen, which, as a newly minted stepmom, is important. Then it hits me, the reason for the weird dreams: It's the start of summer, school's out and the kids are coming home. I always have weird dreams in the days leading up to the kids coming home.

Jeff's kids are extraordinary. They welcomed me into the family, and I adore each of them for their distinct personalities. Two years into Dartmouth, Charlie is taking a semester abroad in Buenos Aires. He's probably going to save the world. Cate's taken up crew at boarding school. If she doesn't star on Broadway, she'll most likely run for president. And Eli just finished his first year at University of Southern California. He's planning to spend the summer with friends caddying on Martha's Vineyard. The kid has never met a stranger. I love it when they come home. But the weird dreams always haunt me.

Eli was the first to come home, and I wanted to make him a special dinner. I got really nice steak to grill and planned to roast vegetables from our CSA. I would make a big salad and fresh pesto for his Caprese. As fate would have it, he landed with a fever and a cold, and all he wanted was chicken noodle soup. I could run back to the store and grab organic chicken wings to make a stock, which is faster than rendering soup from a whole chicken, but it would still take hours to make homemade chicken noodle soup, and Jeff wisely pointed out that it was crazy. So I picked up chicken soup from Alon's, and Jeff and I ate the steak.

Being a stepmom brings great joys and crushing blows. The kids love my cooking but plans change on a dime - there could be a full house with all three kids and their friends, or just Jeff and me, either of which is great. As with most things in life, the best laid plans can unravel just like that. I don't take it personally. I know it's a delicate balance.

Three days later, and Eli's on the mend, so I'll be plucking basil from the garden and toasting nuts on the stovetop to bring out the oil. I'll chop up some nice Parmesan. And I might toss in some greens from our CSA. Pesto is a great way to salvage over-the-hill arugula or carrots tops. They'll have a nice whirl in the Cuisinart and I'll slather it on a fresh baguette with some heirloom tomatoes and Burrata. Because homemade pesto is always better than jarred. Only the best for Eli. Until, of course, Cate and Charlie get home for their own "best" treatments.

1 bunch Basil

1/2 C Toasted Cashews

1/2 C Parmesan Cheese

1 C Olive Oil

Blend the Parmesan and cashews in a Cuisinart until they form a pebbly paste. Rough chop the basil and toss into the Parm/cashew mixture and blend until it's all incorporated. Then with the engine still running, pour in enough olive oil to get the desired texture - smooth but still thick. Add salt to taste.

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