for the love of snacks

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Leaving a country where I feasted on sticky mangoes, seasoned tofu, charred chicken, and rice soaked in coconut milk was challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Although parts of my recent holiday revealed stresses of which I hadn’t anticipated, it was still easy to make mindful choices when it came to food. Fresh fruit and vegetables were abundant, gluten and dairy were virtually non-existent, and when given the opportunity, choosing to indulge in coconut ice cream rather than a slice of sheetcake, seemed like the obvious thing to do. Every meal felt like a celebration (especially since our remote hotel was intent on not feeding us), and I didn’t have the triggers that would normally have me pining for crumb cake or slippery noodles drenched in pesto sauce.

And then I came home to a chill that settled into your skin and remained there. The days were mostly filled with rain and dark, and I vacillated between a hectic work schedule and checking in with my father on his upcoming surgery–all the while attempting to recover from jetlag. I’d envisioned that this Thai holiday would give me clarity, deliver me the kind of solitude that would allow me to make some important decisions about my life, what’s next, and the like, but my holiday wasn’t as peaceful as I would have it, and part of my recovery in New York was, ironically, recovering from my vacation. What I’d left still remained and the two weeks exhausted me. I had no desire to cook. I cancelled appointments. All I wanted to do was recede, sleep. As a result of this abbreviated hibernation, I became less present when it came to what I consumed and I found myself cleaving to potatoes and rice like it was the apocalypse. I started drinking soy coffees again, and yesterday, before a meeting, I had a bite of homemade crumb cake and proceeded to endure the inevitable itch for the rest of the afternoon. My beloved vibrant fruits and legumes had been replaced by root vegetables and I looked my plate and then looked at my photographs, and all I wanted to do was return to Thailand and start over.

It was only until this morning when I felt some semblance of normal. When I returned to macro bowls filled with cabbage, brown rice, kale, nori, beans, roasted carrots and squash. When I wandered the aisles of Whole Foods after a morning spent with a dear friend, and finding delight in having discovered herbed roasted cashews. When I finally tried kelp. When I finally ate something new (something once abhorred) to the point where I started to crave seaweed in salads. This is HUGE because I associate seaweed with FISH and I hate fish–not as much as the wretched MUSHROOM, but damn near close. Today I felt the need to replenish my snacks instead of eating sliced sausage and roasted chickpeas, and need I remind you that I had to issue a chickpea fatwa some time ago because I’d become addicted to the legume.

Snacks keep me sane, and I try to eat whole foods as much as I possible can. Snacks are my bridge between meals and I try to mix up my options so I’m never bored. I always carry apples and nuts in my bag (because you never know when you’ll be stuck underground for 45 minutes on your way home from work and hunger invariably strikes). I also stockpile on sugar-free dried fruit (read the labels. If something had multisyllabic ingredients, RUN), EVOlution or Go Raw bars, cut vegetables and hummus, and leftovers from meals (small portion of butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds). I’ve even purchased mini eco-friendly glass containers where I’ll store leftover, portioned eats for the following day.

In the midst of madness, I’m making my focal point, my place of calm, mindful eating–a source of strength and calm that will hopefully take me through the frenzy that are the holidays.

beef ragu + zucchini noodles + a little bit on food diversity in your diet

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I’m at the point in the game where I have to consider meal diversity. Candidly, I’m a creature of habit (translation: addict), and I tend to gravitate to the same sort of foods, which are healthy, easy to make and in my repertoire. The notion of creating an abundance of variety is exhausting, especially when I’m in an office for most of the week and my schedule is random for the remainder of the week.

However, after meeting with my food coach yesterday, and presenting yet another jetlag-ravaged food journal rife with CHICKPEAS, kale, and chicken, I realize that I’m in a rut. And while you may see some beautiful dishes on this space–case in point: this beef ragu + zucchini noodle dish–much of my weekday meals are a rinse, lather, repeat. That soup I made last week? It was lunch for three days. And while it’s okay to repeat meals, variation is key so your body doesn’t become accustomed to what you feed it. Apparently, I need to be a magician and pull rabbits out of hats and flash wands every few days in order to maintain my health, weight loss, and more importantly, expand the foods in my diet.

So over the next two weeks, I’m following what Dana calls “The Body Project.” Essentially, I won’t be relying on my morning smoothie every day, rather I’ll introduce eggs, chia puddings and other new dishes in the morning mix. The amount of greens in my diet will be substantial, and I’m adding in bean sprouts, snow peas, snap peas, harissa, cress, and new juices (carrot blitzed with almond milk). Superfoods such as pomegranate seeds, Brazilian nuts, seeds, and mint are finding their way into my diet. I’ll let you know how it goes. The good news is that I’ve learned that you crave what you eat. Many people have lamented that I can no longer have pizza (unless it’s with a cauliflower crust, and no, no, I don’t want that, thankyouverymuch), pasta, bread or cheese, and to be honest, I don’t really crave them anymore. Sure, I have the occasional ache when I walk by a bakery and just SMELL EVERYTHING, but it leaves as it comes, and in this way, I’m sort of reminded of my relationship with alcohol. While I sometimes miss my glass of sancerre, I no longer need it. Those cravings have been replaced by the goodness in my diet.

I mean, when I came home from Spain I NEEDED cruciferous greens because my body had become so used to eating it that it missed it. And who misses kale?

I also talked to Dana about weight loss. So far, I’ve lost 20 pounds and I mentioned that I think I only need a set number to get me back to the weight I was four years ago. More than that made me feel uncomfortable because I want to eat the foods I enjoy–re-introducing carbs beyond my twice-weekly splurges, and desserts–and I don’t honestly want to be too thin. I know that may sound shocking because we’re taught, practically programmed, to believe in the cult of thin, but I’d rather have muscle, strength and a bit of fat because I feel right and I’ll age more gracefully. And yes, I have to start thinking about age as I’ll turn 39 this year. I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that I want to feel me in my skin beyond a number.

At the end of my weight goal, I’ll share the before + afters, details, and tips learned. Yet, I’ve also made another important decision–I plan to eat this way (and adding back the random bowl of pasta when I can have it in 7 months time) for the rest of my life. I’ve energy all day, my skin glows and I’m focused, attentive and present, and I can’t help but think that what I put in my body, my house, affects me in more ways than a numerical one.

To that end, this dish is part of that diversity. Who knew I’d be one of those weirdos who gets a SPIRALIZER? However, mixed with the beef, the zucchini noodles, while clearly NOT PASTA (I mean, come on), were though a lovely accompaniment to the hearty beef.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Hemsley & Hemsley. Serves 4 people
1 lb ground sirloin + 1 sweet sausage, casing removed
2-3 tablespoons of vegan butter or olive oil
1 large onion + 2 shallots, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 28oz can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped basil
1 cup vegetable stock*
1 cup of red wine**
2 large carrots
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 tsp nutmeg
4 large zucchinis

Recipe Notes
*I know it’s logical to use chicken or beef stock, but I really love the sharp celery and other veggies that mix with the beef here.
**I used a Rioja, but a full-bodied cabernet is also a fave. If you’re sober and are sensitive about having alcohol in your home (totally get it), I would just add another cup of stock and another tablespoon of tomato paste). I’m cool with cooking with alcohol and reds tend to last in the cupboard than whites in the fridge (good for having friends over).

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simmering ragu
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what it’s really like to cook in my kitchen

DIRECTIONS
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegan butter (I use Earth Balance and love it) or olive oil, and fry the onions/shallots on a low heat until softened, not browned, then add the garlic, basil and any other herbs that you choose. Add the extra tablespoon of butter or oil if needed.

Increase the heat and add the ground sirloin/sausage to the pan and brown, using a wooden spatula to break it up as you go. Pour in the red wine to deglaze the pan, then the tomatoes, paste and broth. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and then reduce to a gentle simmer for 1 ½ hours until rich and thickened, stirring occasionally. I left this cook for 3.5 hours, and added a little more wine (or stock if you’re nixing alcohol, though note that the alcohol cooks out in the heat) if the sauce is too thick for your taste.

Ten minutes before the end of cooking, add the grated carrots and season with nutmeg, sea salt and a good grind of pepper.

Meanwhile, use a spiralizer/julienne peeler on the zucchini. Or use a vegetable peeler and then a knife to slice the courgette strips into spaghetti type strands.

Wilt the zucchini using a little butter and water in a pan. Or, to be more authentic in your service and to save time and washing up, just run some of the sauce hot from the stove through your spirals and the heat and salt in the sauce will soften them.

Check the seasoning and serve on top of a pile of zucchini spaghetti with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to serve.

beef ragu with zucchini noodles
beef ragu with zucchini noodles

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zucchini, corn + pepper fritters (gluten-free)

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Although I loved my two weeks in Spain, nothing compares to home. Nothing compares to a hot shower on a cool night, the feel of your sheets between your toes, and the kitchen I’ll never take for granted again. Andalusian food was everything I expected it to be: simple, fresh ingredients perfectly prepared, but it was challenging dining out. Nearly every item on most menus contained either gluten, dairy, yeast, fish, or scores of other foods of which I had a sensitivity. Dining out required a plan and most days I subsisted on beef, chorizo, delicious cuts of Iberian ham, flash-fried eggplant drizzled with molasses or honey, and patas fritas. Having an AirBNB rental to come home to was a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to eat all the vegetables lacking from my diet during the day.

I actually found myself craving cauliflower and kale. It’s true what they say–when you eat wholesome food, you crave wholesome food. I no longer miss the carbs on which I once subsisted, although I did have an pang while seeing my tour guide slather olive oil and tomatoes on his morning roll. But the desire left as quickly as it arrived, and I didn’t want another fried potato, rather I wanted a heaping pile of greens with roasted chickpeas. While it was much easier cooking in Barcelona (the produce from the Boqueria was incredible, diverse and plentiful), Granada posed a challenge. The climate doesn’t offer a lot of variety in terms of vegetables, and I found myself pining for home, even amidst all the incredible grandeur of the cathedrals, all the Andalusian beauty.

Yesterday, I arrived home, jetlagged. Me being me, I had to unpack, clean and sort my mail within the first two hours of being home. And you can’t understand how it felt to feast on a HUGE bowl of salad last night. Also, the Hemsley sisters’ book, The Art of Eating Well, arrived, and I can’t wait to dive into it this weekend. Lots of veg, lots of color and goodness.

Until then, I’ll be content staring at these fritters I made a month ago, and the fact that I’m finally hitting the gym after a two-week break. Yikes!

INGREDIENTS
1 ear of local, GMO-free corn, shucked, kernels removed with a large knife down the sides of the corn
1 zucchini, grated
3 tbsp mixed sweet bell peppers, cubed
1 tbsp chives, minced
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tbsp of olive oil

DIRECTIONS
Combine all the ingredients, except for the olive oil, in a bowl and allow to rest for ten minutes. In a large skillet on medium heat, add the olive oil. Using an ice cream scoop, dollop and slightly flatten the fritters, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook for 4-6 minutes on one side until brown, flip, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately with your favorite dressing/dipping sauce. I used this leftover creamy parsley dressing.

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the triumphant return of the groat!

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When I made a seismic shift in my diet two months ago, many were aghast. The top five questions, in no particular order, were (and continue to be) as follows:

1. Aren’t you hungry?
2. No really, aren’t you hungry?
3. So, what do you eat?
4. So, you eat mostly vegetables, because gluten is in everything?
5. So, you can only eat rice and potatoes? Whoa, that’s sad

There’s a thread to these questions–some are filled with curiousity and wonder, and others are trying to imagine the unimaginable–but all of them consider my life change from the perspective of subtraction rather than addition, or dare I even suggest…multiplication. In food, like life, there are additions that are not purely mathematical. For years, I relied on a handful of dishes and foods to sustain me, and know that the irony of this–someone who eats by rote and routine–does not escape me, self-proclaimed foodie. I think it’s because we’re only present for the moment we consume, rarely do consider or tally up the totality of what we’ve consumed until we open our closets one day and collapse under the avalanche of what we’ve collected over time. Until the moment when you fill three huge boxes of food, all of them gluten-based.

Through constraints, you find abundance. You become agile, creative, and I liken this to writing prose, really, because prose requires that you look the world through a different prism. Writing is about what you see when everything else about a object has been stripped away. It’s like looking through the kaleidoscopes you had as a child. The world was filled with color, glass and beads, and as you look through one end, light floods creating patterns based on the reflection off the mirrors. Your whole point of focus has been reduced to the light coming in through the tube, and there were people who recited the list of things they saw, while I always imagined something other. I saw what wasn’t there; I saw the barest thing and from that I fashioned something so far from the collection of random objects. I saw the beauty beneath and beyond, if that makes any sense.

And so after a few weeks of whining and the like (I’ll have you know that my whining now revolves around my skin condition), I decided to reframe and think of all the things I can have. I imagine all the variations on a single food (cauliflower! kale! chickpeas!) and build and mutate, build and mutate, until what I have is so much greater than what I’ve lost. Make sense?

That’s a long-winded way (shocker, this is me we’re talking about) of saying that I can have rice (so many kinds and colors!), lentils (rinse, lather, repeat), quinoa, beans, buckwheat groats, and the list goes on. But beyond that, all the vegetables, meats, fruits, flavors, spices, herbs! It’s like taking a noodle and in one country, it’s Italian, in another it’s Greek, Indian, and so forth.

So I found a few recipes for my beloved groat (ah, the couscous of our gluten-free time!), one of which is this lovely side dish that has a very Indian feel (ginger, turmeric–though, I substituted for curry as I didn’t have turmeric on hand, cinnamon, orange flavors, cilantro), and I plan on hoovering this tonight with vegetables.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gluten, Wheat, & Dairy Free Cookbook, a gift from my dear friend, Amber. I modified the recipe slightly.
2 cups gluten-free vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups toasted buckwheat groats
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric (or curry)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 carrots, coarsely shredded
1/3 cup pine nuts (I nixed this)
Salt + pepper
1/4 cup cilantro and orange zest, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Bring the stock to a boil and add the groats. Simmer for 5-6 minutes on medium heat. Add one tablespoon of oil, cover, and let cook for 8-10 minutes, until tender and all the water has been absorbed.

Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil and saute the shallots with a pinch of salt over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and slightly browned.

Add the garlic, ginger, and stir for 1 minute. Then, stir in the turmeric (or curry), cinnamon, orange juice, raisins, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the carrots, cooked buckwheat, and pine nuts, and stir until evenly heated. Season to taste with salt + pepper. Add chopped cilantro + orange zest for garnish.

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corn, summer squash + zucchini fritters + a mini-rant on blogger trust

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This week I experienced the sort of rage that keeps you up pacing at night. The kind of rage where you pound out tweet after tweet, because you have to let the world know about your disappointment. I have to talk to you about blogger responsibility, trust and how a betrayal of that trust can be devastating.

And yes, we’ll get to these fritters.

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through one of my favorite design and home decor sites. Vising this space is akin to getting lost in a great, old book–the pictures are coffee-table worthy, evocative and inspiring; when reading the posts, you feel as if your smarter best girlfriend is telling you about all the things you need in order to outfit your home. So when I discovered a series of photographs of an artist, which was available for purchase on Artfully Walls, I was JUBILANT. I even went so far as to do thing I rarely do: post a rave on my website even before the print arrived on my doorstep, because I made the critical error of trusting someone with whom I don’t have a personal connection, so much so that I allowed it to blind my judgment. Part of me is angry with myself for linking to Artfully Walls on this space before I received my item–something I will NEVER, EVER do again.

When I received the print, for which I’d pay $70, it was packaged in a file folder, without cardboard, and as a result, the “print” was bent and folded in places. The actual print itself was a piece of Xerox paper, of which the actual photo took out 40% of the page, while the remainder of the print-out was dedicated to Artfully Walls branding, and a Limited Edition seal, which marred the actual photo. Not only was the print on flimsy stock paper {I can’t even call this stock paper without laughing}, but I essentially spent $70 on a piece of paper I couldn’t frame and hang proudly on my wall. Heartbreaking, considering the photographer is exceptionally talented. I’ve purchased dozens of prints over the years; I have a watch. I KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS. And the time on Artfully Walls is 24-hours of WACKNESS.

Perhaps I’m still reeling from wasting $70, however, I’m starting to realize that I can’t trust bloggers whom I don’t know personally. Having worked in an agency that curried the favor of influencers with trips, product, and $, and then seeing a slew of bloggers who write sponsored post after sponsored post gushing about the things they’re paid to love, or promoting a friend’s product in an effort to do them a solid–I’ve become skeptical, suspicious.

Even the bloggers we love have the capability of being bought, influenced. They are capable of making grave errors in judgment.

I won’t disclose where I originally heard about Artfully Walls, as I’ve traded some comments with the blogger who seemed genuinely disappointed and upset on my behalf, however, I firmly believe that if you’re going to post a link to buy something, you need to stand behind what you post. Because if I trust you enough to buy the thing of which you’re promoting, trust is abandoned once that purchase is anything less than extraordinary.

How does this relate to fritters, you ask? Over a year ago I penned reviews for Medium, and I was privileged enough to receive cookbooks to review on the platform. I’ve since given up writing on all spaces, save this one, however, a kind publicist sent me Vibrant Food for editorial consideration. I love this book. So much so that I ordered it for a friend when it went on sale this week. I can’t WAIT until I give her a wrapped gift this weekend! I know what I’m about to say is controversial, but I don’t want to talk about anything on this space unless I’ve purchased the product with my own money and I can vouch for its awesomeness.

Because nothing hurts more than someone who visits your space and says: YOU SUCK.

But believe me when I say that Kimberley Hasselbrink’s book is nothing short of extraordinary. So much so, that I’ve made seven recipes out of the book, all successful, and I feel even better about recommending the book because I’ve purchased a copy. I’ve also showed this to a few friends — from novice cooks to those who have food allergies — and I can’t get over the wide-eyes and gaped mouths because not only are the photographs bold and beautiful, but the recipes are ones you want to immediately make. I’m posting one final recipe from the book because, quite frankly, you need to buy it. If there is one cookbook you need to buy this season, this is IT.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food {Know that I plan to purchase a few more copies as holiday gifts!}
2 small ears of corn, husks and silk removed
1/2 cup grated zucchini {or green squash}
1/2 cup grated yellow squash
1/2 to 1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced.
5 green onions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup flour
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS
Using a sharp knife, slowly slice the kernels off the corn on the cob. Add the zucchini, squash, jalapeño, green onion, basil, cilantro, and salt. Add the egg and mix until evenly combined. Add 1/4 cup of flour, mixing again until combined. My batter was on the wet side, so I added a tbsp at a time from the remaining 1/4 cup of reserve flour until the mixture was moist. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and using a 1/4 cup measure, drop 3-4 fritters into the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes a side until the edges are brown, and flip to cook for another 4 minutes. Place the fritters on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat twice more with remaining batter, using an additional tbsp of oil between each fry.

Serve the fritters warm. DELICIOUS!

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green goddess salad with kale, pomegranate + roasted chickpeas

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Perhaps I’m riding the high from yesterday’s euphoric slash agonizing workout, however, before I head out for another session (just call me a masochist), I decided to hoover a large bowl of kale. I made some modifications to the original recipe, which called for cheese (dairy has been killing me softly with its song as of late) and anchovy paste (I can’t), and added it additional fruit and crunchy nuts so I’m filled, as my pop would say, to the gills.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Clara Persis, with modifications.
For the salad
6 cups Lacinato kale, pretty finely chopped
1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 roasted pistachios
1 tbsp flaxseed
1 Granny Smith apple, shredded
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the dressing:
1 cup 2% Greek yogurt
3/4 cup packed basil leaves
1/4 tsp fish sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 400°. Placed the chickpeas on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Drizzle with a little olive oil (1/2 tbsp) and toss to coat all the peas. Be generous with your salt and pepper, so you have the opportunity to have a truly seasoned and flavorful salad topper. Roast the chickpeas for 25-30 minutes until deep golden brown and crunchy. Allow them to cool slightly.

Make the dressing: Blitz all the ingredients in a blender food processor, and blend until completely combined and very smooth. Set aside.

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Place the kale in a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Using your hand, massage the olive oil into the kale a bit to soften the leaves. Pour in 1/2 cup of dressing and toss well to combine. Add in the chickpeas, pomegranate seeds, apple, blueberries, flaxseeds, and pistachios, and toss gently. Season with a little more salt and pepper. Spoon the salad into bowls, drizzle with a bit more dressing, and serve immediately.

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walking the batignolles biologique {organic} market, paris

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As you weave through the stalls, you’ll grow ravenous from the smell of roasting, herbed chicken. You’ll lean into the peonies and wonder how flowers could possibly be so pink. You’ll witness vendors arranging their wares much like designers in an atelier drape garments over lithe mannequins, with care and passion. You might see a duck. You’ll dab a bit of lavender oil on the undersides of your wrists. You wonder where’s kale until you realize it’s not in season. You’ll pause in front of the wine and wish you could have a sip without all the three-piece luggage. You’ll wrap a scarf around your neck but it’s never the way the Parisians do it. You’ll see a man holding a sign that reads: dog for sale. He’s homeless, an interloper, and this is the last hand he can play. You feel the tears well up and don’t know why, but you notice that most of the homeless have pets, companions who are loyal and sleep by their side, and this kills you in ways you never imagined. You’ll realize that fleur del sel is cheaper in Paris. You’ll realize that you were once a girl who bought chickens and cigarettes in bodegas, so how is it that you know the word, fleur del sel? You’ll see men arrange flowers. Women arrange fish heads. Children arranging themselves around one another. You’ll hear, Ça va? over and over again. You’ll suck on an orange rind, and then wonder if it’s dangerous, but you do it anyway. You notice no one thinks you’re American. You leave. You can’t figure out where a certain street is located on your iPhone map until a girl unfolds an accordion map and shows you the way. You think that sometimes it’s good to have something to hold on to.

The Batignolles Biologique Market, 17 éme, is on Saturdays along Boulevard de Batignolles. Metro: Rome or Place de Clichy.

mexican rice + bean casserole

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After a dark week, a semblance of the woman I used to be is slowly returning and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This week presents all sorts of excitement from a new opportunity, to a meeting with my book agent to discuss a new project, to catching up with friends, to preparations for my three-week European holiday, I’ve much to do in a small amount of time. In the midst of all the frenzy, I did manage to squeeze in time this weekend to have a proper dinner on my deck, replete with napkins, sparkling water and a soothing candle — my version of burning sage, if you will.

Cheers to my private cleaning, and I hope you’ll enjoy this superb dish just as much as I did!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron
1 cup medium grain brown rice
2 tbsp vegetable base (paste)
1 tbsp Mexican spice blend (fennel, cayenne, turmeric and chili powder)
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 red onion
1 avocado, ripened
1 lime
1 bunch of cilantro (1/4-1/2 cup chopped, depending on your preference)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 corn tortillas
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS
Make the rice: Preheat the oven to 425F. In a medium skillet bring 2 1/2 cups of water, vegetable base, spice blend, a pinch of salt and rice to a boil. Once it’s bubbling, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all of the water.

Prepare your mis en place: Cube the avocado and squeeze some lime juice so it won’t oxidize and turn brown. Cut the peppers into strips. Finely dice the onion. Roughly chop the cilantro. Shred the cheese. Cut the tortilla into strips.

Cook the vegetables: In a large pan, heat olive oil on high until the pan becomes hot. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the onions and peppers and cook for three minutes. I like to add a pinch of salt so the onions sweat and don’t burn. Once the veggies have softened, add the rinsed black beans and cook for another two minutes. While this is happening, toss the tortilla strips in olive oil and spread out on a medium baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, tossing the strips halfway through the process. You want the strips crispy but not brown. Set aside everything.

Bake the casserole: Toss the cooked rice in the vegetable pan and transfer the mixture to a large baking dish, spreading the ingredients evenly. Top with grated cheese and cook in the oven for 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Finish it off!: Top the hot mixture with the tortilla strips, avocado and cilantro. Enjoy!

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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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