one-pot chorizo, spinach + lemon risotto

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Remember risotto? The simply, yet arduous dish that required you to linger? One false move and invariably you’ll end up torching the rice? Remember the dish that gave you an bicep workout? I certainly do, and never did I think that I can shove a pot in the oven and twenty minutes later, voilà!, creamy, satiny arborio rice.

Today, I’m making dinner for two, and I decided on this simple dish from Australian television show host + cookbook author, Janelle Bloom. Her book is chockfull of simple, delicious dishes that don’t require a laundry list of ingredients. Sticky ribs, pizzas, lasagnes, protein-packed salads, and sumptuous sides and divine desserts, Janelle reminds me of the old Ina Garten, before Ina phoned in her recipes. {heaves sigh} I’ll be making quite a few more savory dishes from this book as the dessert section is a tad light, but for now enjoy this easy-peasy one-pot risotto.

Merry Christmas!

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Janelle Bloom’s Fast Fresh & Fabulous
4 chorizo sausages (approximately 1lb/16oz)
1 shallot, roughly chopped
2 cups (400g) arborio rice, rinsed
4 cups (1qt) chicken stock
1 handful spinach, roughly chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
zest from one lemon
1/2 cup parmesan (or pecorino romano) cheese
Salt/pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F. Use a knife to split the sausage casings and peel each chorizo sausage. Discard casings. Roughly chop the sausages and set aside.

Heat the oil in an overproof saucepan (I used a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the sausage meat and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes, until lightly golden. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil.

Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid or foil. Transfer to the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until the stock is almost absorbed. Remove from the oven.

Stir in the spinach and parsley. Cover and stand for 1-2 minutes until the spinach has wilted. Stir in the lemon zest and cheese and season with salt + pepper. Serve pipping hot!

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chowing in melbourne, australia {and on traveling alone}

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Is it just you? Are you traveling alone? Table for one? Only you? You’ve come a long way by yourself! You’re so brave to be traveling on our own. Could you grab that table instead, because this one by the window seats four? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have a husband? Do you ever get lonely?

This morning I made a list of all the places I’ve traveled alone: Prague, Rome, Frankfurt, Florence, Toronto, London, Paris, Biarritz, San Sebastian, St. Petersburg (Russia), Pisa, Cinque Terre, Siena, Bayonne (France), San Gimignano, Pompeii, Hong Kong, Bali, Siem Reap, Bangkok, Kaplong Pluk, Madrid, Mexico, Melbourne, Fiji, Tuscany, Copenhagen, and most of the United States. I’ll be 38 next week, and I actually find this to be a paltry list, as I’ve so much more of the world to see. Continents left to navigate, languages to untangle. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I plan to experience the world on my own.

Ever since I was old enough to board a bus and carry a map, I’ve been itinerant. In high school I had few friends, so I spent weekends discovering obscure parts of Long Island, taking buses to miniature towns dotting the shoreline and others engulfed by trees. Waking up and wondering how the day would reveal itself thrilled me, and I never craved the company of others. I simply got used to my own company, and for a time, I lived a great deal of my life in my head. Being alone gives me the time and space to think and often this is the time when I write best. Often, I find it strange when people tell me I’m “brave” for traveling alone. What’s brave about boarding an airplane and planning a holiday? It’s not as if I’m fleeing to the Middle East or planting myself in war-torn countries. I’m acutely aware that there are a great deal of countries where traveling alone, especially if one is a woman, presents challenges. I’ve heard stories. Morocco, Goa, parts of the Middle East and Africa — these are dream destinations, but I plan to be smart and either travel with a group or hire a male guide. Because the freedoms and cultural norms that exist in the States don’t board a plane with me, even if I desperately want them to. Part of my work is researching the places I visit, and ensuring I fully understand the culture before I clear customs.

This is a roundabout way of saying that flying to Syria is brave. Traveling to Fiji is not. Is being alone with your thoughts brave? Is it because I am a woman and one assumes that women should be accompanied by others (perhaps a gentleman?) when they travel? I’m genuinely curious what makes one traveling alone brave, because, for me, I simply prefer to play my days as they lay. The idea of having to placate someone else’s schedule exhausts me. I spend the great deal of my life surrounded by people, and sometimes I just don’t want to speak unless I have to. There’s nothing more liberating than exploring a city on my own, and I guess I have to figure out what this means should I find a great love. Part of me knows that I will want to sometimes fly solo, and this love will have to accept that too.

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When I arrived in Melbourne, I didn’t have much of a plan. Two days in a large city can be overwhelming, so instead of trying to cram a whole fantastic culture of art and architecture into 48 hours, I settled on a walking tour and food journey, knowing that I’ll likely return to this part of the world someday soon. This morning I woke and left my home at 7, not realizing that many shops in Melbourne don’t open to at least 9 or 10, but it was nice to roam gardens and streets without all the fanfare of a busy morning. I’m staying in an artists’ workspace in the S.E. Suburb of Richmond (think Williamsburg), so I didn’t have to deal with the frenzy of CBD (Central Business District), which is akin to midtown Manhattan, until the afternoon.

I found Martha Ray’s on a lark, really. Friends unanimously sung the praises of Brunswick Street (think East Village with its eclectic and vintage shops, art galleries, old houses, smart coffee houses and outdoor cafes), so I found myself drawn to Martha Ray’s clean, minimalist space, but its scrumptious menu (Broadsheet review). I’m told the eatery is known for their sandwiches, but this filling breakfast of puffed corn, rice, quinoa, baked in agave syrup and coconut oil, topped with local fruit, was TO DIE FOR. And did I mention the amazing coffee? Because I should.

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If it’s delicious biscuits and cakes you’re after, Slowpoke Espresso is the right spot (Broadsheet review). After devouring a raspberry and white chocolate (you read right) muffin that married the perfect crunch of the cracked muffin top with the light sweet flavor of the cake, I chatted up one of the baristas. Coffee is practically an art form in Australia, and proprietors take their beans and brews pretty seriously. Melbourne isn’t a city where you’ll find a Starbucks on every block, and I’m relieved. Instead, you’ll find yourself ordering a “short black” (espresso), “long black” (hot water + double espresso), “flat white” (think latte + more froth), as well as the requisite lattes and cappuccinos — all strong and impeccably flavored. I sampled a few brews at Slowpoke, and after nearly shaking from all the caffeine, I nabbed a fat chocolate chip biscuit (cookie) for takeaway (to go).

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You have to know that everyone in the free world told me to go to Chin Chin, THE place to eat in CBD. Part restaurant, part bar, part art space, this reservation-free spot (except for parties of 10-12), gets bawdy at night (or so I’m told), but since my habits are more of the Geritol variety, I decided to enjoy a tame early lunch. Luckily I arrived at Chin Chin at 11:30AM, as the place was quickly booking up. From the airy warehouse decor to the branded glasses to the Southeast Asian menu and chill vibe, you will not only want to hoover everything on the menu, you’ll want to score the Chin Chin Cookbook to recreate the experience at home. I settled on the corn + coriander fritters served with a plum jam (AMAZING!) and the Laab Gai — stir fried spiced minced chicken, lime, ground roasted rice, served with iceberg lettuce cups (HOLD ME!). You’ll find generous portions of noodles, rice, meat and vegetarian options with price points from $18AUD-$30AUD. So glad I listened to the hype, as Chin Chin definitely deserves their accolades.

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After leaving Chin Chin, I was on the hunt for more coffee and perhaps another sweet, so I checked out Duke’s Coffee Roasters, a very busy spot in CBD (Broadsheet review). While the coffee was full-on, my peanut butter cookie was less so. A bit dry, poor crumb and a peanut butter flavor that overwhelmed the chocolate, I was a bit disappointed.

Tomorrow, I plan to hit Journal, Krimper, Manchester Press, Tivoli Bread Bakery, as well as the food markets!

Special thanks to Sue Wells, Jessica Goon and Ginny Gruber for their amazing, lengthy recommendations!

butternut squash macaroni + cheese

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So, I’m a little distracted. I still can’t believe that in three days I’ll be on a plane to Fiji. My impending trip, coupled with a lengthy reflective post I’ve drafted, a novel that needs reworking, and a work project en media res, has me splintered. I’m viewing my trip as a beacon of sorts, one that will allow me to get myopic about where I need to place my energy in the coming months. Unfortunately, I booked my trip during Fiji’s rain season (note to self: don’t book holidays on your phone while mourning the loss of your pet), so I’ve decided to book an impromptu segue flight to Melbourne, Australia. All of this can certainly be filed under problems of the First World variety, but still, I’m distracted. Unfocused. Rushing to get things sorted out before my departure.

Not to mention, I’m all broken up about leaving my Felix, my little man.

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This week you’ll find me buttoning up on a work project, packing, settling in my lovely house guest/cat sitter, running errands like a mad woman, sitting in Los Angeles for a day layover, and then boarding a flight to Fiji, Australia, and hopefully I’ll cultivate some clarity along the way.

In the interim, enjoy this simple + savory squash mac and cheese, which is legitimately as good as the real thing.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart, slightly modified
1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1 cup homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock, skimmed of fat
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound elbow macaroni (I used whole wheat penne)
6 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 tbsp Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1 ounce)
3 tbsp fine breadcrumbs
1 tsp olive oil
Olive-oil, cooking spray

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine squash, stock, and milk in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Mash contents of saucepan; stir in nutmeg, cayenne, and salt, and season with black pepper. Stir to combine.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles; cook until al dente according to package instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl; stir in squash mixture, cheddar, ricotta, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking dish (4 inches deep) with cooking spray. Transfer noodle mixture to dish. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and oil; sprinkle evenly over noodle mixture.

Cover with foil, and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking until lightly browned and crisp on top, 30 to 40 minutes more. Serve immediately.

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on my bookshelf + some thoughts on writing

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For four years I woke and came home to a blank page. Writing was a failed series of stops and starts, an epileptic fit of random ideas gone nowhere. We write what consumes us, whether we like or it not, and our work is a reflection of what we’re tethered to. Arguably, I could say that I spent four years bound to an idea of a life that I thought I wanted. I had my publishing time. I had my freelance time. Now, it was time to get serious, as they would say. It was time to climb the ranks, have a title for which one could live up to, or any such euphemism for binding yourself to a computer for ten plus hours a day. Living as a barnacle under the undersides of planes and behind the desk, where lunch was what was ordered online. Conversation was the exchange of pleasantries and minor personal effects, but never too personal, mind you, between you and strangers, people whom you’d spent more time than those you loved.

You also write, as I’ve learned, when you have perspective, room to breathe. And in those four years I had neither — I chased what was in front of me, rather than conceiving of what could be beyond me. Beyond the next pitch, deck, meeting, endless and exhausting conference calls.

Honestly, I was worried. This ability I had to put words together in unusual ways felt like it had atrophied. It was a muscle gone slack and weak, and every time I came to the page, I kept saying the same old thing. Kept relying on my certain stock of images. I wrote a younger version of myself in an aged, experienced body, and I couldn’t quite get the two to reconcile. So instead I wrote about food. I wrote short blog posts, told some stories, and called it a day. But I’d soon learn it wasn’t enough. I wanted the shape of people. I wanted their voices in my head, constant, constant, like some sort of metronome. I craved a world that was unlike my own, but familiar in some way so I had my in. I had my compass, I would navigate.

And then there was the issue of the reading, or the lack of it. I used to have a blog where I’d document, over the course of six years, all the books I’d read. I stopped doing this because I went from a woman who voraciously devoured 60 books a year to one or two. My diction wasn’t what it was, I didn’t get inspired, I didn’t have space and time in which to read and learn. I grew irritable and impatient with longer books, because I was taught by society that we like our content succinct, manageable, efficient — like a machine of sorts.

So when I flew to Europe in April, I packed nearly a dozen books and read all of them. I read them on the flight, on the TGV, in the hotel room, on the metro, in the parks, on the beaches, in the many, many restaurants where I took meals. I read, folded down pages, took down words I liked. In the case of Nabokov, I took down words to look up in the dictionary.

And then it came. Like a torrent. I sat in a hotel room in Biarritz, the last leg of my journey, and wrote what would become the thing that consumes me, my new novel, Mammoth. I didn’t know what I was doing, or where I was going, but I let the hand play out and kept typing. Hopeful that the larger narrative would get pried out of my subconscious, and months later, after death, loss, more books, and an awakening, I’ve got a clear direction.

The two halves are now one, and I’m reading and writing more than ever. There are stacks of printed drafts in my living room. Books on the floor, on tables and in my closets. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on, and this week I’ve got these four books in play.

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris | Doctor Sleep: A Novel | The Lowland | The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, … and Everything Else in the World Since 1953

the road to delicious: parsley + chive pesto

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Those who know me well know of my passion for pesto. I’ve blitzed every green you could potentially imagine, and only once did I feel as if I created an enormous failure (I don’t care what the cookbooks or slick bloggers say, sage pesto is catastrophic unless you blend it heavily with a lighter leaf like basil, spinach of flat-leaf kale to cut the soapiness). However, when I opened up Bon Appetit‘s summer issue, I couldn’t resist the allure of the two greens I haven’t conquered: parsley + chives.

On my way home from the market, I wondered why beef got relegated to the red sauce lot — rarely do I ever see a sirloin paired with the verdant sauce, and I never understood why. Are we tied to silly food rules that dictate white wine must always pair with fish and rosemary must always complement lamb? So I ran back to the market, scored some beef, and set out for a dish that would be insanely delicious.

Suffice it to say, I’m addicted to the unexpected juxtaposition of the sharp chives with the almost sweet and delicate parsley. The pesto was savorier than those I normally make, and it stood up well against the grilled beef, lending a depth of flavor that I have yet to experience. If I can implore you to do one thing this summer, it’s this: eat beef with pesto. You won’t regret it.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, with slight modifications
1 pound fresh fettucini or linguine pasta
1/2 cup unsalted, roasted almonds
4 cups (packed) fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley leaves
3/4 cup chopped fresh chives
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper + sea salt, to taste
1 lb ground sirloin + 2 tsp of olive oil for the pan

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DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add the olive oil, beef and salt + pepper to taste. Cook until the meat is brown on all sides, 4-5 minutes.

While the beef is cooking, blitz the pesto ingredients (almonds, parsley, chives, olive oil and cheese) in a food processor (or you can opt for the mortar + pestle method) until smooth + creamy. I’ll add the salt/pepper to taste after all the ingredients have been incorporated.

Once the beef is done, set aside. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Toss pasta and pesto in a large bowl, adding pasta cooking liquid by 1/4-cupfuls until saucy. Add in the beef. Season with salt and pepper.

welcome to your life, day one

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I wanted to be a writer, that’s all. I wanted to write about it all. Everything that happens in a moment. The way the flowers looked when you carried them in your arms. This towel, how it smells, how it feels, this thread. All our feelings, yours and mine. The history of it, who we once were. Everything in the world. Everything all mixed up, like it’s all mixed up now. And I failed. I failed. No matter what you start with it ends up being so much less. Ed Harris, “The Hours”

A few hours ago, a dear friend sent me a text message which read, What’s the first day of freedom like? What’s left to say after three years of enduring a great love that turned into your greatest heartbreak? It was an autumn three years ago, the warmest we’d known, and I spent a day with scrappy misfits, kids on the verge. Kids hacked away on laptops in the dark. Blasted music and complained about Fresh Direct deliverables. Created memes and raged rap battles on Twitter. I remember leaving a small office in Soho, a place where the doll-sized elevator never worked and the receptionist was whoever was on their way out to lunch, and I remembered feeling something, and that something was possibility. And it was all because of a man who knew how to weave the kind of stories you’d stay up all night listening to. Stories that consumed you, came like swallows. Leaving the office that day I kept murmuring, take me with you.

I spent the next three and a half years telling stories until my voice was hoarse and I could speak no more. Out of respect for a great man and mentor, I’ll never talk about the innards of that time beyond my farewell song, but I’m heartbroken. It’s as if someone carved out my still-beating heart and left it on the carpet to gather lint and pulse out until the dust inevitably covered it whole. And even though I left on my own terms, armed with so much, part of me feels like no matter what you start with it ends up being so much less.

And I’ll leave it at that.

So permit me my mourning. Today I spent time with my champions, old friends, new ones, and myself. From almond croissants in Union Square to carb-loading all things citrus to my heart’s content at Rosemary’s, to pedaling through the dark at Soul Cycle, to thinking about what it means to pray, to listening to boys playing out their hearts, to clinking glasses at Antica Pesa, I needed to be with people I admired, adored and respected. I needed to get past this dark moment. I needed to feel like I felt that autumn, when there was so much possibility.

It’s there, I know. Just give me time and some quiet to see it.

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pretty eats: abc kitchen, new york

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Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist, there are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges and absorbs the impact. Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Sometimes you need to treat yourself like bowered finery. Come Sundays one used to wear crinoline and pinafores. One made it a habit to not walk, but glide, and although we’re far past the bygone era of rest, relaxation and observing rituals that bring out a sense of pride, every Sunday I’ve made it my private tradition to take myself out for breakfast. Lovely outfit and eatery to match. Quiet table for one. Just me, my meal and my thoughts. Trying to re-arrange the shape of things, break them apart, rebuild. This week was one of my favorites, ABC Kitchen — a swoon-worthy spot drenched in sunlight and a sumptuous menu that you just want to devour.

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coconut jasmine rice with bok choy, cashews + golden raisins

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It does not seem to me, Austerlitz added, that we understand the laws governing the return of the past, but I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like, and the longer I think about it the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead, that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision. ― W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

It occurs to me that I’ve been artfully dodging mirrors. Washing my face in the dark, making absurd small talk in the bathroom, squinting at mirrors, always — it’s been a long time since I was fearful of the person on the other side of the looking glass. A small part of me knows, but a large part of me doesn’t want to know. That part only wants to fast forward the tape and press play. That part whispers, Soon, soon, not yet. Easy, easy, you’ve got her too high. That part paces the floorboards at night, hoping to smother the clocks. Praying that they don’t start their cruel tick.

But they do, and you freak, and you quote the dead {HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME} and watch the same horror movies on repeat. Your lidless eyes press shut. Alexis Murdoch croons the word shine for six minutes. For a time you used to stutter when you were young, and now you realize you took comfort in the repetition, the duplicative nature of the echo. It’s a lullaby that tricks you into thinking that time hasn’t moved at all. Then it occurs to you — and this is the violent shaking of a small plane that numbs you down to the bone — that you’re not frightened of seeing your living reflection, but you’re petrified of being imprisoned by your dead one. Hands waving.

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!

The shift to second person was deliberate. Consider it an inversion of the first for those who need a bit of distance. But you remind yourself that this is the year that you plunged your hand into the earth and you said the words: it’s time. Last month was the ticking of the bomb. This month and all the days forward are the harvest. Come springtime the body was rise, dewy-faced, anew. That once murmuring heart, smothered by the peanut-crunching crowd, will suddenly t. ti. tic. tick. TICK. . Creating an indelible print on the glass. Then spoke the thunder.

But first things, first. Let’s undo the food-shame that was the past month and drown ourselves in a verdant bowl of green…

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron
1 cup jasmin rice
1 5.6oz can coconut milk
1 head bok choy
2 tbsp cilantro
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup dried coconut flakes
1/2 cup cashews
3 tbsp golden raisins
1 lime

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DIRECTIONS
In a medium pot add the rice, coconut milk and 1 1/3 cup water. Heat to boiling on high and then reduce the heat to lower and simmer the rice, covered, for twenty minutes. While the rice is cooking, finely chop the stems {I nixed the stems as I don’t prefer the texture} and rough chop the leaves and set aside. Finely dice the cilantro and three cloves of garlic and set this aside, as well.

Toast the cashews and coconut on a hot pan on the stove for under a minute. Definitely check the nuts + coconut often as they can burn pretty quickly. Remove from the heat when they’re fragrant and golden and set aside.

When the rice is done, fluff with a fork and add the juice from 1/2 lime, the cashews and golden raisins, 1/2 of the cilantro and toasted coconut. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, add a tablespoon of olive oil to medium-high heat and sautée the bok choy and garlic for 2-3 minutes, until the leaves are wilted and the stems are softened. Add the bok choy to the rice, and add the remaining cilantro and coconut. Serve hot + 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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peanut butter chocolate chip coconut (semi-virtuous) muffins + those ubiquitous new year’s resolutions…

peanut butter chocolate chip (semi-virtuous) muffins
We had all that we wanted, but it would never be enough. The coveting kind, we were ravaged with disease, and that sickness was one of want. There was a massacre on the streets but no one could see it. Our eyes are hurtful criminals because they wander from a coworker’s glinting diamond and the parade of fawning that inevitably follows, and then you gaze at the lithe girl bouncing at the gym, — her exuberance and youth create a gaping hole where you used to be — and finally you come home to click, click, click, and you see someone’s life lived in sepia — perhaps a blogger of whom you’ve become fond — and you glance at your small postage stamp of a home and back to her verdant garden and suddenly you want to toss your computer out the nearest available window. IT’S NOT FAIR!, we’re wont to shout.

Come year-end, your lofty list of annual resolves delivers a version of your life that vaguely resembles your own. Unbeknownst to you, you’ve abandoned the notion of uncovering the best version of yourself, lain it asunder, to fall into the noise that is everyone else’s life. Truth be told, we all do this. Don’t our eyes rove over the things we want? Don’t we sometimes admire with an undertone of disdain? Haven’t we found ourselves wondering if someone really deserved that fellow, home, body or life? Amidst all of this we’ve created an inverse relationship between someone’s good fortune and our own self worth. We resolve to be thinner! happier! married! more successful at work! Do we utter these platitudes because we envision our annual chrysalis as one where we supplant someone else over ourselves? Her face, her body, her career and my voice?

Today I invite you to momentarily put aside this necessity of want and focus on who you are. And more importantly, the kind of person you want to be so the only life you’re coveting is your own.

But I get that some folks want to go off the sauce, hit the stairclimber and embark on a more virtuous meal plan. [BRIEF PARENTHETICAL: IF YOU EVEN CONSIDER A JUICE CLEANSE -- ESSENTIALLY, SOCIALLY-ACCEPTABLE STARVATION, YOU ARE A LUNATIC. PLAIN AND SIMPLE.] So for that I offer you this: a yummy, semi-virtuous muffin. Full of rich flavor, you won’t miss the white flour, butter and sugar, and hoovering six muffins as opposed to a dozen is sort of virtuous, right?

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from London Bakes with modifications.
115g (1 cup) whole wheat flour*
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
50g (1/4 cup) peanut butter chips
50g (1/4 cup) dark chocolate chips
3 tbsp flaked coconut for spreading on top
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large egg
60ml (1/4 cup) molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g (4 tablespoons) plain greek yoghurt (you can also use almond milk or dairy-free yoghurt)

*Baker’s Notes: If you’re able to measure out your ingredients on a scale, do it. I was shocked that 1 measured cup of flour was actually too much for the recipe when measured in grams. I had to spoon out nearly a 1/4 cup to get to 115g.

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 180C/350F and line a 6-hole muffin tin with paper cases.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder. In a small bowl, dust flour over the peanut butter and chocolate chips. Set both bowls aside.

In a separate but also large bowl, mix together the olive oil, egg, molasses, vanilla and yoghurt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix through a couple of times; add the peanut butter and chocolate chips and fold a few times again. As ever with muffins, don’t overmix; it doesn’t matter if there are still streaks of flour.

Spoon into the muffin cases, scatter with coconut flakes and cover with tin foil for half the baking time. Bake for 18-20 minutes and turn the pan halfway through the baking process. After 10 or so minutes remove the foil so you don’t char the coconut flakes.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

peanut butter chocolate chip (semi-virtuous) muffins
peanut butter chocolate chip (semi-virtuous) muffins
peanut butter chocolate chip (semi-virtuous) muffins