two-cheese grits + kale

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about relationships, the ties that bind one person to another, and how the love between good, honest people can shelter one another from heartbreak. Even more so I’m considering what it means to know someone, really know someone. Each day I read dozens of blogs, women whom I admire, women who are word artisans, charming itinerants and prolific bakers, but do I really know them? I would posit that I don’t. Rather, I know only one aspect of their character, one they chose to share online; I’m reading an edited version of one’s self, replete with fanciful photographs and a playlist at the ready. Yet, we crave meaningful connection, people who are just like us, or those who we aspire to be, but I would offer this: we don’t really know anyone until we spend time with them. Until we see aspects of their character that’s not always edited for television.

A few days ago I received a comment that irked me. Although it was likely intended to be a compliment — the notion that I had evolved from someone who only cared about her hair to someone who writes lengthy, highly-edited paragraphs about aspects of my personal life that I feel comfortable sharing — it felt much like someone was saying that I was once one-dimensional and now I’m not. Clearly it wouldn’t have bothered me if part of it didn’t hold some semblance of truth. Certainly there was a period in my life when I courted material things, and for a time I chose to put that aspect of my character online. Similarly, years ago I chose to put another aspect of myself online when I wrote about my struggles with alcohol and letting go of my mother. And now, liberated from a job that exhausted me, I feel as if all of the doors have swung open and I can write, freely.

In Spanish, there are two verbs that communicate a state of being, ser and estar. Ser expresses permanence, while estar speaks to how one feels in the moment: the difference between I am a woman and I am tired. Over the years I’ve used this space to practice my estar while my ser remained mostly unchanged. And while I still crave beautiful things, now I like them for different reasons, and I want less of them. But how do you know all facets of one’s character unless you’re connected to them in their lives, when you can see the shifts, albeit tantamount of a minor quaking? Once you have trepass to the full picture, it is then you understand the digressions and splintering.

I’ve been thinking about how well we really know someone. For a time, I consumed copious amounts of Russian literature because many books contemplated the double, namely, the dual nature that resides in all of us; our propensity to be kind and cruel, depending upon the situation. And while I think it’s true that I don’t think you know someone based on their blog posts, tweets and other presented versions of self, I’m also starting to wonder about the people I know in real life.

Were you always this way, or was I too blind to see you for who you really are?

Let’s shift to something that’s comforting…

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron
1 cup vegetable broth
2 1/2 cups water
1 large Spanish onion {I nixed this as onions aren’t my bag}
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch kale (2-3 cups), washed + dried
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 cup grits
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 lemon
1 tsp sesame seeds

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DIRECTIONS
Prepare your ingredients: In a medium pot, bring the water + broth to a boil. Rough chop your kale, peel + slice the onion and garlic. Set the onion, garlic, cheese and kale aside.

Cook the grits: When the mixture comes to a bubble, add in the grits and stir frequently for twenty minutes. Leave the grits uncovered.

Cook the onions: While I am not a believer of the caramelized onion, far be it from me to deny you the glory. While the grits cook, heat up some olive oil (2 tbsp usually works) on medium heat until hot. Add the onion, reduce the heat slightly, and cook for 12-15 minutes until the onions are sugary and golden brown. Season with salt + pepper. Transfer the onions to a plate.

Cook the kale: Add a touch more olive oil to the pan and add the garlic and pepper flakes, and then kale. Toss until the kale is slick and coated with oil, garlic and flakes, and let it cook until the leaves are wilted, 3-5 minutes. While you’re doing this you’re still stirring your grits.

Remove the kale from the heat, season with salt and pepper and add a spritz of lemon for additional flavor.

Finish the grits: When the grits are cooked {they’ll thicken considerably}, take them off the heat and add in your cheeses, stirring vigorously. Season with salt + pepper. Add the grits to two plates and add the onions + kale to your bed of delicious cheesiness. Serve!

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tofu fajitas, whole wheat tortillas, pursuing a new book project + the business of leaving

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Lately all I can think about is writing a new book and what that means in age of distraction, abbreviation and constant connection. It’s been a long time since I’ve written long form, since I’ve thought about crafting a narrative, developing characters, finding the in of people. Someone once told me that writing is much like an exorcism — you obsess over the things for which you’re most passionate, and writing allows you to write them out, to give your obsession new shape, color and form. Years ago, when I was playing around with being a “line” writer {think Gary Lutz or my friend + prolific author, Kira Henehan, those who are obsessed with the architect of a sentence versus the development of a story}, someone in my Columbia workshop told me that the family story has been done. Naturally, this statement was followed by an exaggerated sigh, to which I responded in laughter. Every story has been told, but it’s the telling and the voice that make it new. I still believe this. Even now, years later, after so many people have asked if I plan to return to the terrain of my previous book.

To which I’ve responded with a very firm, no. I wrote that obsession out, practically underwent a blood-letting, and now I’ve quietly placed a clean sheet over it, kissed its cheek and allowed the waves to carry it out to the ocean.

However, what I have been obsessed with is what I like to call the business of leaving. Years ago, I wrote a story collection, which turned out to be my thesis for the Columbia MFA program, about a series of characters affected by leaving. I don’t do well with loss, abandonment, leaving, and even though I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, leaving gnaws. When my best friend of seven years got married and excised all contact it took me a full year to barely recover. When a great love laid my heart out to pasture I was devastated. And when my father called me last week and told me his dearest friend of twenty-five years died of leukemia it took everything in me not to race home and cry alongside him.

The interesting part in all of this is that food always plays a part in every story. From ruined restaurants to beloved recipes, food has always been the center, or the character, in my life. Love, loss and what I ate will be the heart of my new project. It won’t be the sort of thing where I tell as story and dump a recipe at the end, as that’s not how I think. I’m not linear {can’t you tell?} in how I tell a story, so food has to be woven throughout, it must be integral. So this has me exploring new forms. New ways of telling a story in a new age.

Let’s see what unfolds…

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 red onion
1 bunch cilantro (2 tbsp, rough chop)
1 ripe avocado
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 package superfirm tofu (you can opt to use chicken, beef, shrimp or other protein alternatives)
1/4 cup sour cream
4 whole wheat tortillas
2 1/4 tsp fajita dry mix

DIRECTIONS
Prepare all your veggie by slicing all veggies {peppers, onion, avocado} into big chunks or strips. Squeeze some lime juice all over the avocado to prevent it from oxidizing {turning brown}.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet with the heat set to high. Drain the water from the tofu and cut into strips. Transfer the strips to the pipping hot pan and cook until browned on both sides (4-7 minutes/side). While the tofu is cooking, add the peppers and onions along with the fajita seasoning and stir until well-cooked and combined. You want your veggies softened, but still crunchy and the tofu, browned.

In a separate pan, heat the tortillas on both sides until warmed and set aside.

Distribute the mixture to all your tortillas and add the avocado + sour cream + spritz with lime and serve!

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my “fever” salad: tofu + chinese broccoli with soba noodle salad

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Part of me wants to call this my fever salad, as “fever” is an often-used moniker for lemongrass, the crisp, astringent herb native to tropical regions of Asia and Africa. Two years ago I found myself in front of the Indian Ocean, the sand a blanket before my feet, and I remember feasting on a plate of noodles tossed with lemongrass. The meal was simple, citrusy, fragrant and delicious, and as the sun dipped into the ocean, rendering the water a vibrant pink hue, I felt feverish. I felt as if I’d never feel this calm or free again. I blasted the Bird and the Bee’s “Preparedness” on repeat and as Bali succumbed to the night, folded into its darkness, I lay down on the shoreline, plate by my side and counted the stars.

You may also have noticed I’m on a bit of a noodle kick. Between chowing on pasta and rhapsodizing about my major life change, I haven’t kept track of what I’ve been posting here, it’s just been raw and organic. However, I promise to hit the stand mixer soon because I’m missing my biscuits and fluffy cakes.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron (Serves 3, generously)
1 large bunch Chinese broccoli (you can also use spinach or bok choy)
2 scallions
2 cloves garlic
1 small piece of ginger
1 stalk lemongrass
1 package extra-firm tofu
1 lb (16 oz) soba noodles
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 lime
4 Birdseye chilies
1/4 cup hoisin sauce

DIRECTIONS
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash and dry the Chinese broccoli. Roughly chop the leaves (I’m not a fan of the stalks so I nix them) and finely dice the scallions. Set aside. Peel and finely chop the ginger + garlic, and set them aside as well. Chop off the ends of your lemongrass and peel the stalk until you get to the tender, pale center. The exterior will be pretty fibrous, and as your peel the herb will become more tender and fragrant. Finely chop the lemongrass core and set aside. Press out the excess water out of the tofu with a paper towel and cut into one-inch cubes. As you can tell I wasn’t entirely successful in the cutting process, however, as long as your tofu is drained of all water and is browned on all sides who cares if it’s not pretty as a proverbial picture?

When the water comes to a boil, add the soba noodles and cool until tender, 4-6 minutes.

While the noodles are cooking, line a plate with a layer of paper towels. Heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in a medium skillet set to high heat and toss in your tofu, making sure that the tofu browns on all sides, 8-10 minutes. You want to stir occasionally, not like I did, and ended up making what resembles a vegan scramble, but then again this reminded me of the texture of pad see ew, so life is grand. Season with salt + pepper and transfer the tofu to the lined plate when done.

Drain the noodles and rinse with cool water. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, diced scallions and juice of 1/2 a lime. Toss until well combined and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In the pan you used for the tofu, add a splash of olive oil and toss in the broccoli, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, whole chilis and cook for 2-5 minutes until the greens are verdant and wilted. Add the hoisin sauce and toss to combine.

Divide the soba noodles between three bowls and top the noodles with the delicious tofu + Chinese broccoli mixture. Serve hot, or you can absolutely feast on this as a cold salad.

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vegetable kebabs with curried chickpeas and yogurt sauce

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If you want to find your passion, surrender to your heartbreak. Your heartbreak points towards a truer north, + it’s the difficult journey.“How to Have a Year That Matters”

Speaking to so many different people lately who are out of sorts, or, more specifically, trying to find their way home. Whether they’ve lost jobs they’ve never really wanted or they’re forced to uproot their lives to move to a new city halfway across the world, the air feels nomadic. We’ve become itinerant, our year an Odyssey in miniature. Already this year presents so much change, unrest, indecision and flux, and we can either choose to drown in the mess of it or swim our way to shore.

So I’ve been thinking about change, great, earth-shattering change. The change of loud songs and kaboom, and I’ve been thinking about risk and change and love and life and what that all means. For me.

And this weekend I had a friend come ’round and we passed the time watching old horror movies, the black and white kind, and feasted on these yummy kabobs. Talking about our mutual chrysalis.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron (Serves 2; 450 calories/person)
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 carrots, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
8 brussels sprouts, cut in half
3 cloves garlic, fine dice 2 of them and smash and grind the third into a paste
1 small onion, finely diced
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1 bunch mint, fine dice (2 tbsp)
1 bunch parsley, fine dice (2 tbsp)
4 wooden skewers

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DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with tin foil. Set aside. Chop all your veggies as noted above and set aside. Place the cauliflower, carrots and brussels sprouts on the skewers, alternating vegetables as you like. If you have leftover veggies, don’t sweat it — chop them up finely and add them to the chickpea mixture later. Drizzle the skewers with salt, pepper and olive oil and roast them for 12-15 minutes, until they’re slightly charred and crisp.

While the kebabs are roasting, drizzle olive oil in a pan with medium heat and sauté the onions, 2 cloves of garlic, a little salt and remaining vegetables for 4-5 minutes. Season with salt/pepper to taste.

Add the rinsed chickpeas, turmeric, cumin and curry, as well as a few tablespoons of water to the pan and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. The sauce should thicken and become fragrant.

While the chickpeas are cooking, add the parsley, mint and garlic paste to the yoghurt and mix well (the recipe calls for adding the parsley at the end but I loved it in the sauce). Set aside.

Once the kebabs are done, divide the chickpea mixture between two plates, add the kebabs and drizzle the sauce over both plates. ENJOY!

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ligurian chard with pine nuts, quinoa + feta

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To say that I’ve an addictive personality would be an understatement. I tend to cleave to things, people, to an excess, to the point where the very thing I once love begins to sicken me. From the blueberry muffin to the glorious almond croissant (I won’t quit you!) to toxic girlfriends, my addiction has run the gamut so I’ve got to be careful.

One of the reasons why I subscribed to Blue Apron Meals {brief parenthetical: I’m in no way, shape or form being compensated or incentivized to prattle on endlessly about these guys — I just seriously love the service and have gotten scores of my work colleagues hooked} is the fact that it affords me meal diversity because I tend to get into a food rut when under considerable work stress. Then all of a sudden the delivery guys have my phone number programmed into their cell phones, and my garbage bin is piled high with leftover tubs of gnocchi pesto. NOT GOOD, PEOPLE. No wins in this scenario and a month of wearing leggings is the epitome of the downward spiral.

So today after French class I raced home and cooked up some healthy and FLAVORFUL chard with pine nuts, feta and quinoa. Not only do I feel virtuous about the food I’m eating (and the money I’m saving), I’m not hitting the Italian restaurant on speed dial.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron Meals
1 bunch swiss chard
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup golden raisins
4oz feta cheese
1 tbsp pine nuts
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic
8-10 Kalamata olives
1 cup vegetable broth
1 small onion
1 lemon

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DIRECTIONS
First, put a medium pot of water to a boil. Wash the chard, shake off the excess water. Next thinly slice the greens, onion and garlic. Finally, pit and chop the olives and set everything aside.

Add the quinoa to the boiling water, add a little salt, and cook for 8-10 minutes. While the quinoa is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over high heat for a few seconds. Keep an eye on the nuts as they can burn and then you are left crying because pine nuts are EXPENSIVE and you’ve just ruined them. Trust me, I’ve been there. Remove the pine nuts from the heat and set aside.

Once the quinoa is done, drain it well and mix with the golden raisins, half of the pine nuts, half of the cheese, and the juice of half of a lemon. Season with salt (go easy on this as the feta and olives are quite salty) and pepper to taste.

Drizzle a little olive oil (1 tbsp) in a medium pan and turn the heat to high. Sauté the onion, red pepper flakes, and garlic for a few minutes, or until the onions start to soften. The last few Blue Apron recipes I tried I had to dial down the temperature and time as my garlic was getting chard. I had it on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, adding a little salt so the onions could sweat, and I was golden. Then, add the chard and sauté for a few more minutes until the leaves start to wilt.

Next, add the broth to the pan and simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until the broth reduces a bit, 5-6 minutes. Season with salt/pepper to taste.

Divide the quinoa between two plates (or pack a separate tupperware for work, as I do), then serve the chard over the top. Sprinkle the chopped olives over the quinoa and greens. Garnish with remaining cheese and pine nuts, along with a lemon wedge. Enjoy!

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baked squash with millet and caponata

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Why not have a big life? — Emily Dickinson

Why not have a big life? Have the most extraordinary life there is? Why settle for anything less than extraordinary? Why not live every day jumping out of bed and hurtling yourself into the trees? Why not fall in love with yourself all over again? Why not sleep the sleep of children? Why not take the sun like sacrament? Why not read a book and then read it again? Why not ride the subway to the end of the line? Why not eat a slice of cake in the morning? Why not forget the calories? Why not watch cartoons like you used to? Why not email everyone you know and tell them you love them, love them, love them, just because.

Why not break ranks? Why not tumble out to the unknown?

Today I woke and fell in love with my life. And I finally could see myself here, and then myself, there. And I could finally draw a line between the two.

Did I mention I took my first French class today and that I. LOVED. IT.? And did I mention I got over my fear of eggplant and dove right into this delicious bit of healthy heaven? Did I…Did I?!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron Meals (serves 2; 525 calories/serving)
2 medium acorn squash
1/2 cup millet*
1 small zucchini
1 small eggplant
1 red pepper
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley (2-3 tbsp chopped)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp raw (cane) sugar
2 oz goat cheese
2 tbsp of olive oil

*If you can’t access millet, I think quinoa or bulgur wheat would do quite nicely.

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DIRECTIONS
First, pre-heat your oven to 425F and put a medium pot of water to a boil. Cut the tops off the squash, then scoop out the seeds. Although this recipe doesn’t use the seeds, I love them roasted and tossed with some chili (yum!). But I digress. Drizzle the squash with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then place them in the oven on a baking sheet. Since the oil drizzled on my pan I managed to set off the fire alarm in my apartment every thirty seconds. Note to self: line the pan with parchment paper to prevent smoking.

Dice the zucchini, eggplant and red pepper (making sure you de-seed the pepper). Then chop the garlic and roughly chop the parsley. Once the water is boiling, add the millet and boil for 10 minutes, or until the it is tender.

Drizzle 1 tbsp of olive oil into a medium pan, then turn the heat to high. Sauté the eggplant, zucchini and red pepper for 3-4 minutes until the vegetables are soft. It’s important that you cut your vegetables around the same size so that they’ll cook evenly. You may need to add another tbsp of olive oil while your cooking the veggies. After 4 minutes, add the garlic and sugar, and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add the vinegar and most of the parsley. This is your caponata.

Once the millet is done, drain and add to the pan with the caponata. Stir until well combined, then remove from the heat.

Next, remove the squash from the oven and fill with your caponata mixture. Sprinkle the goat cheese over the top, then bake for 15 more minutes, or until the squash is completely tender. If you have extra filling, save it to serve alongside the squash.

Once the squash is tender, remove from the oven and garnish with the remaining parsley and DIG IN!

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heirloom apple salad with sweet potato + blue cheese

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Years ago we used to shout Merry Christmas from the rafters without apology. Along the way, the shouts were squashed to a timid murmur, and everyone now pantomimes Happy Holidays. I don’t actually remember when the shift occurred, but it was slight, imperceivable, and although stores felt comfortable hocking Christmas wares in October, everyone still dutifully obeyed the holiday greeting.

MERRY CHRISTMAS. MERRY CHRISTMAS. MERRY CHRISTMAS. EVE.

As I type this, I’m curled up on a warm couch with my kitty, nibbling on honey rolls. Readying myself from my annual Connecticut sojourn where I plan to eat my weight in cookies, beef and all sorts of terrific, culinary delights of which my dear friend Liz has in store for me. I plan to eat like it’s 2099, and in preparation I feel it’s wise to be a tad virtuous (hmm, we may want to nix the honey rolls).

Enter this yummy heirloom apple salad. Words cannot express how much I adore this salad. You won’t feel deprived, rather, you’ll find yourself digging in, fork first. The vinaigrette provides a sharp, fresh tang against the the pungent cheese and sweet potato. In all candor, this is a lot for two people, so I’d recommend this salad as a side for four, a generous portion for 3.

Hopefully, this will divert my attention from the magic bars in the freezer!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron
2 apples
1/4 cup roasted almonds
1 clove garlic
1 bunch arugula (2 cups)
1 head green leaf lettuce (4 cups)
1 small shallot
1 celery stalk
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
4oz blue cheese
1 baby sweet potato
1 bunch tarragon (3 tbsp)

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DIRECTIONS
First, put a small pot of water to a boil. Peel and dice your sweet potato, then chop the celery. Next, dice the apples, then chop the tarragon. Finely chop the shallot, and set it aside in a small bowl with the apple cider vinegar. Lastly, smash and chop the garlic until it resembles a paste, then add it to the vinegar with the shallot.

Next, toast the almonds in a dry pan over high heat. They only need to toast for a few seconds — be careful not to burn them! Remove the almonds from the pan, then roughly chop them.

Add the diced sweet potatoes to the boiling water. Blanch them for 4-7 minutes, or until they can be easily pierced with a fork. Then, drain the sweet potatoes and rinse them under cold water. While the sweet potatoes are blanching, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the apple cider vinegar, shallots and garlic with the olive oil, chopped tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Next, wash the lettuce and arugula, then shake off the excess water. Finely chop the greens together, then set them aside in a large mixing bowl. Add the apples, half of the almonds, celery, half of the blue cheese and sweet potatoes to the mixing bowl with the arugula and lettuce. Toss with enough of the vinaigrette to dress the salad. Divide the salad between two plates and garnish the remaining blue cheese and almonds. Enjoy!

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blue apron meals: butternut squash mac + cheese

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To say that this week was nothing short of exhilarating and exhausting would be a grand understatement. Not only was I surprised with a mininature pony the day after my birthday — a grand and beautiful stunt orchestrated by my wonderful boss, who showed me that if you wear someone down long enough, they acquiesce — but hoards of emails, new plans being hatched and conversations occurring over a flurry of text messages. This week was a grand metamorphosis for all the lovely people in my life, including myself, and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep the undisturbed sleep of children.

Exhaustion is my worst enemy because I end up making shameful gastronomic mistakes. Think gnocchi pesto every night for three months straight, mistake. Imagine bagels and almond croissants for a month straight, mistake. So I decided to get crafty and return to Blue Apron meal delivery. A few months ago I sampled the service and loved it for its fresh food, convenience and smart recipes, however, it felt confining because I don’t eat fish or many cuts of meat, which made the investment an unwise one for a picky eater such as myself. However, that didn’t stop me for bamboozling all of my work colleagues to sign up, and when one of them told me that Blue Apron had launched a vegetarian menu, I nearly SCREAMED.

Because except for the HORRID AND WRETCHED MUSHROOM, I can roll with a veg. And I’m glad I did.

This week’s menu is pretty extraordinary, and since the cost is $60 for 3 meals for two, I get a lot of leftover mileage, which is pretty superb for leftovers and lunch the next day. My grocery bill is seriously bananas, and I like how Blue Apron portions out all of the ingredients because if I BUY A BUNCH OF PARSLEY FOR ONE SPRING ONE MORE TIME I’M GOING TO KICK A POODLE (J/K). Less waste, good food, and diversity are keeping me sane these days.

After a long day, I settled into a bowl of creamy butternut squash macaroni and cheese and I am honestly in HEAVEN. All I need is a remote and a tea and we’re calling it a NIGHT.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron Meals
1/2 butternut squash
8oz whole wheat penne
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp whole wheat panko
1 small bunch of sage (5-6 sprigs)
2 tbsp parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS
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