Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Bella shares my love of necklaces, Nutella, novels, and flavored lip gloss.
She does NOT share my love of green vegetables and deep breathing.

Hearing "deepen your breath" is as natural to my kids (and I'm sure as annoying) as "find your inside voice" and "put your napkin in your lap."

I'm also a broken record about the importance of eating green vegetables.

Last week, I bought a ridiculously large bag of pea shoots from the farmers' market. Bella was disgusted. She has perfected that swallow-grimace-holding-back-vomit look. 

"Ooh girl, I'm going to make you some pea shoot pesto that you will eat and like."

"Fine. Try. But I'm not going to like it. 'Cause those pea shoots are green."

Chlorophyll is what makes plants green. This pigment is powerful in flavor (parsley juice, blech!) and in function (photosynthesis). The chlorophyll helps plants absorb energy from the sun. Plants use this light energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars (plant food). Then these green plants spit out oxygen as their garbage. Their garbage is the precious oxygen I'm inhaling deeply as I try to get my children to eat green vegetables. Full fucking circle.

I thought about this pesto for a few days. These pea shoots would need a lot of transformation to please my Bella. So I roasted garlic until it was soft and sweet. I bought goat cheese, picked lemons, and toasted some almonds.

After softening the pea shoots for 30 seconds in boiling water, I shocked them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking.
Some friends told me they had just experienced gnarly stringy pea shoot pesto. No way Bella was going to eat anything stringy. So I pulverized the hell out of the shoots. 
Dash came in and started heaping spoonfuls of pea shoot purée into his mouth. He is one of those strange children who will eat anything. And then he pushed me aside and took over the pesto-making. 

"More cheese. I want to squirt in the cooked garlic. Gimme the lemon. Salt, mama? Yeah, salt." He kept tasting the pesto and narrowly missing the sharp blade with his little fingers. So I handed him a tasting spoon.

I found my Bella curled up in a chair with her book.  I slid a big spoonful of the pesto into her mouth. 
She kept her eyes glued to her book, waved her hand at me like she was Brando in The Godfather, and said, "Fine. I'll have it on pasta."

Normally I don't let her talk to me this way. But she knew that I so totally told her so with this one. She could talk to me any way she wanted. 

I cooked some farfalle and then watched her eat a whole bowl of it coated in pea shoot pesto—eyes still glued to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I tried to get her to look up from her book and laugh, "What planet did Dash come from? He's sure not from earth." 


I continued. I told her I had a theory about Dash's boundless energy and his crazy love of green vegetables. I've been reading about these sacoglossan sea slugs that scarf up algae and actually perform photosynthesis within their bodies. Pea puree plus California sun. We have a solar-powered Dash performing kleptoplasty in our very own house.

Bella was not amused.

She's also not going to be amused when I tell her that tonight we're having nettle and walnut pesto on rack of lamb. I can just hear her now, "Mama, why would you ruin a perfectly good lamb popsicle with NETTLES!" And then she will eat it. And then, I'll bet you a hundred dollars, she will like it.


4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon salt, to blanch pea shoots
6 cups pea shoots
1/2 cup goat cheese
1/3 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted
juice/zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wrap unpeeled cloves of garlic in tin foil. Bake until garlic is soft. 30-45 minutes. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt. Blanch the pea shoots in salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Shock the shoots in ice water. Pour shoots into a colander. Use your hands to squeeze out most of the excess water. Pulverize pea shoots in a food processor until smooth.

Squirt cooked roasted garlic out of the skin into the pea purée. Add goat cheese, parmesan, almonds, juice/zest of lemon, and 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Pulverize for 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides. Pulverize again. Taste. Add salt, pepper, and more of any ingredient that's lacking. If it's too thick add some more olive oil. This keeps in the fridge for up to a week. Cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent browning. Or you can freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray and then store the cubes in a ziploc bag.


  1. I'm lucky, both kids like vegetgables now, but they do go through those anti-green phases.
    This looks delicious

  2. I become giddy when I see you have a new post. Thanks for giving us a window into your fabulous world!

  3. Each week I check in on your site hoping (and praying) that there will be a new post. I practically jump up and down when my hopes are realized and then immediately text my med-school daughter as we both love reading your entries! Thank you so much... you have just made our week. :o)

  4. wow. catherine. betty. little hunting creek. thanks for all the support. it means a lot.

  5. Phyllis. I have a complaint. Really, a major problem with your posts. Why are they not daily? Come on now. Have you not figured out that you have passionate followers? See above. This is just not enough. I know, writing and photography and recipe creation are time consuming, but your fans are clamoring for more. More, I tell you!

  6. I love that Bella has the Brando-like hand flip down. You should have countered with, "I'll make you an pea shoot pesto you can't refuse..."

    j via

  7. What a funny and real story, I liked so much albahaca pesto, may be try your´s with my boys.
    Bella´s phorograpy is great!

  8. First visit via NYT link. Great! Your kitchen sounds like great fun. Dash is a treasure and Bella will come around, someday - we hope. Regards, -Craig.

  9. So sorry I can't continue to recommend your blog with the beautiful photography and writing. Consider me quaint or old-fashioned if you must, but your use of the f-bomb is a major turn off.

  10. I must say, between dash and bella and yummy supper, I have been making some fabu meals lately!!!!

  11. I like the f-words! keep on keepin' it real! I second all of the people who want more posts. You must be busy, but your posts are awesome and your recipes are delicious and I'd like more!

  12. Why must the anti-"F-bomb" brigade leave their comments anonymously? Are they ashamed of their views, or is any negative feedback supposed to be cowardly?

  13. I admire your ideas, writing style, recipes and photography so much that I immediately reject any criticism of your comic self-expression style.
    If the blog were written for an audience of children, there might be some basis for discussion; but if for adults, then there's not much room quibble.
    Keep it up, please. Even your recipes are cleverly written.
    Don't we want to have fun? You show us the way, Phyllis.

  14. I agree with everyone who wants more posts. I found this blog about a month ago and read the entire history in one day (I didn't get much work done that day). It is so fun and stories about your kids are amazing, but it's hard to check every day when the posts are so infrequent.

  15. Kar, you can subscribe via email and new posts will come right to your inbox!

  16. I could use more greens in my own cooking, so keep those recipe coming :)

    happy mother's day :)

  17. This is exactly the sort of dish I made at cooking school. It's the pea shoots that are special - delicate and sweet.

  18. oh i've loved reading all these comments. i wish i could post more. the cooking, writing, editing, photo editing, all take me so long! but all your enthusiasm might give me a bit of a push. thanks so much to all of you.

    and i LOVE the back and forth about the f-bomb. you should see how many f-bombs i cut out. this post originally had 3 of them! but i thought that was overkill.

    thanks all for making me smile so big.

    back to it. maybe there will be a post next week, if not sooner...

  19. Mark Twain would understand....

    Don't mess with genius.

  20. First, I love off-the-beaten-path pestos. One of my favorite accidental creations in our kitchen uses celery and toasted pepitas. mmmm.

    Second, I love love love your photos. Is it all natural light in an amazingly sunny house? or do you have a flash? if you use a flash, would you share which one?

  21. erin. celery and pepitas? tell me more.

    i don't use a flash. i have some nice sun in my kitchen in the afternoon. but i have to get creative. those 2 shots of the pesto (in the bowl and in the cuisinart) were taken late in the afternoon. i put the bowls on the floor and opened the back door praying for enough light. it gets tricky. but i find with the kids and cooking the late afternoon backlight works really well. sometimes i even take things into my daughter's room or the living room. i'm always looking for light. but never direct light. instead i use a piece of white cardboard or a reflector to reflect the light.

  22. I read this (or parts of this) to my five year old boy, reminding him about trying new things. He loved how Dash helped and heaped spoonfuls into his mouth! I've been reading you extol the pesto for a year now and I've only recently got the courage up to try. It's worked! I love that you brought Bella a taste while she was reading, that's genius! I'm trying that next. I find that if I bring veggies in a bowl into my kids where they are while I"m making dinner, they will eat all of them without paying attention.

    Since reading your blog, I've given up the plan of getting my kids drunk in order to make them eat well ("...a spoonful of kalua makes the kale go down...") and I owe you (they owe you) their sobriety!

    Thank you!

  23. Makes me wish I could get my hands on some pea sprouts :/

    I took advantage of your deep breathe cues in this one and you helped shave a little stress off my day :)

  24. What a wonderful idea!! And, lovely photos! Pea shoots are one of my most favorite foods, so finding new ways to utilize them is fabulous!

  25. just found your blog - it's lovely. thanks for sharing your ideas :)

  26. I absolutely adore your blog-- thank you for sharing such wonders. I am in love with the jar that you used for your pesto-- where did you find it? xx

  27. thanks, juju! the jar belonged to my grandmother. isn't it cool? i wish i could find more of them.

  28. Yay, Phyllis!

    This looks great. I've got peas growing in the yard. Maybe I'll try harvesting some of the shoots! Is it just the tender tendrils and not so much stalk?

    Anne Shelton

  29. sri,
    yes. more the tendrils. but give the stalks a taste. if they're not bitter you could include a few. let me know...

  30. This looks like a real step up from shop-bought pesto, that's for sure!

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