Archive: 2011

  1. Every Little Bit

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    I love this season. It’s cold. There are lights. There is hand holding. There is fellowship among strangers. Joy elevates the mundane, and cultivates memories to satiate and linger through the early months of another year, a new year. The blankets come down from the closet, there is ample excuse to bake, and we somehow find time, make time to connect.

    For no particular reason, there are some days when I am shaken by the absurdity of my blessings. I learned at a young age that the holidays are not all gingerbread and champagne for everyone. I remember that when everyone seemed to be getting out of school and taking time off, my mom’s private practice was just ramping up. While the “other moms” were planning progressive dinners, she was helping the mourning, lonely, and lost to navigate the hardest part of their year.

    There can be just as much sadness as there is joy associated with this season. I try to remember this everyday. While I indulge in the sweet embrace of loved ones next week, I know that someone, somewhere, is alone. Someone, somewhere, is piecing together a semblance of celebration after deep, confusing loss.

    It’s startling, to witness your own luck. How mind-blowing it is to have so much, again, another year.

    Of course there are moments throughout the season that frustrate. Our relatives can make us crazy. You’ll bump into that person from high school you really would have rather avoided. You’ll feel obligated to attend certain neighborhood functions. Your partner will exceed the 50lb baggage limit. You’ll be late to work. Someone will forget to change the roll in the guest room. There will be thousands of crazy, maddening moments and interactions this season.

    Remember that someone, just like you, somewhere on this planet doesn’t get those crazy, maddening moments. They have no one to burn the biscuits for. They are trying to understand the meaning of tradition when there is now an empty seat at the table.

    Here’s the thing… I want every single crazy moment that comes with this time of year. I know that one year, if I am not so lucky as I am now, that I will cling to the taste and the touch and the sounds of all these moments and how they made my life so rich and full. I want to do the things I don’t want to really do, I want to see the people I don’t really want to see, I want show, express, and appreciate every bit of it.

    Roasted Chestnut Spread 

    • 1 lb Chestnuts
    • 1 1/2 – 2 cups water
    • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla

    Roasting and shucking chestnuts is more fun with a partner, so grab a partner and tell them to set the oven to 425.’ As the oven preheats, begin working with the chestnuts by cutting a large x on the rounded side of each shell. Place flat side down on a pan. I cover mine with parchment because it’s a bit “seasoned” if you know what I mean. Pour a cup of water over the cross-hatched chestnuts and roast for about 22-25 minutes.

    Remove from the oven, the skins should have peel back a bit by now. Let cool for about 10 minutes before getting started on the peeling process. You’ll need to discard the tough, dark brown shell as well as the thin brown skin that coats the actual soft nut. From all my research, each nut has a different story. Some shells and skins are a nuisance while others come off quite easily. It’s a tedious job, but definitely worth it. Toss naked chestnuts into small pot and cover with 1 1/2 – 2 cups of water, depending on how many nuts you ended up yielding. I usually come out with a few nasty moldy dudes and some that crumble apart when I’m trying to peel, so my best guess is that I have about 8-10 ounces of actual nut when it’s all said and done. Add sugar and vanilla. Bring to a boil and stir, allowing to simmer for about 15 minutes.

    Remove from heat. Let sit in the pot for a bit before transferring to a food processer with the blade attachment. Process for about 5 minutes, adding a tiny bit of water or warm milk to the mixture to help things along. Transfer to a jar or serve immediately with crepes, toast, or apple slices.

    Recipe adapted from Jennie. Cowl/Scarf made by Melissa. Find more music by the amazing (22 year-old!!) Ben Howard Here.

  2. Jerusalem Artichokes & Orecchiette

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    Mostly just a quote today. There is a ping-pong match going on upstairs. Lots of thoughts. Ideas. Beginnings and endings always get me riled up. Maybe it’s all the coffee. I would recommend holding off on calling me anytime in the next ten days. I’ll probably bulldoze the conversation with things like how corporations should not be considered ‘persons’ with constitutional rights equal to real people, failed institutions in Guatemala, the movie 50/50, or how I almost ran out of gas again. I can’t always keep the crazy in check. And maybe that’s okay. I love this quote in all its affirmation. Get crazy. Get reckless.

    “I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.” J. Didion (again, I know, what can I say, she’s amazing)

    Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Orecchiette 
    Pairings suggested by Nigel Slater, Tender

    • 12 oz dried or fresh orecchiette (or other pasta of choice)
    • 1-2 lbs firm ‘chokes
    • 2-3 lemons
    • 1 head flat leaf parsley
    • pat of butter or ghee
    • olive oil
    • salt/pepper

    Jerusalem Artichokes, Sunchokes to some, are stubborn buggers to clean. If Nigel Slater hadn’t warned me otherwise, I would have been tempted to just be done with the caked on mud and peel the darn things. I’m glad I was patient — Cooking the ‘chokes with their skins helps preserve their crispness and earthiness. Just make sure you spend a good ten minutes scrubbing the tubers or else dinner is likely to be on the gritty side. I washed them, sliced them thin, then rinsed them again to dislodge the soil from the deep notches.

    Once you’ve sliced them thin, throw them in a steaming basket for about 5-10 minutes just to loosen up the fiber. While you wait, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. In a large sauce pan or dutch oven, bring a bit of olive oil and butter to a sizzle. Transfer steamed ‘chokes and sauté for about 10 minutes to absorb the fat and slightly brown. Kill the heat. By now the pasta water should be boiling. Cook per packaging instructions until just past al dente. Remove. Strain. Rinse. Let dry. Then toss with the ‘chokes.

    I LOVE parsley, so I used a whole head of leaves, chopped roughly. But a heaping cup or so would do. Toss into the pot of ‘chokes and pasta. Add juice of 2 or three lemons, a good shake of salt and pepper, and a few lugs of olive oil. Toss together to coat. For the omnivore, Slater suggets adding chopped bacon or seared bay scallops. Find another great recipe using ‘chokes here.

  3. Spiced Apple Molasses Cake

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    Muscle memory. By definition it’s synonymous with motor learning, a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. The idea is when a movement or thought process is repeated over time, a “long-term muscle memory” is created so that with practice that task can be performed without a conscious effort. It’s a concept that’s been on my mind lately. With the end of another semester upon me, I’ve begun to feel the usual stresses that accompany it.

    With three and a half years practice, the muscle memory is pretty reliable by now. My mind and body quickly get with the program, summoning my emotion, faculty, and willpower to engage at full speed. In some ways this is great. Things get done. Books get read. Term papers get written. But what trappings have my conditioned mind led me into again? Unnecessary stress? Check. Anxiety? Check. Emotional highs and lows? Check. Silly stuff in the big picture.

    I think the whole muscle memory concept is amazing when you step back and look at how it works in so many aspects of our lives. On the physiological level, a person can teach her legs, her heart, and her lungs to run, jump, skip, swim — and with time she can be active without a conscious effort. In the same way I think there is a sort of psychological muscle memory that exists too. We can program our thoughts and responses to variety of situations through repeated practice to a point where these things too can be performed without conscious effort. Over time instead of stopping and thinking, our brains skip thinking and our muscles just “do,” or react. In some ways, this can be incredibly powerful. We can condition positivity, optimism, and non-judgment to inherently color our intentions and actions. On the flip side, it also means we fall into traps of repeated emotions and behaviors that we’ve been programmed for so long to experience the condition in a certain way.

    Here’s the awesome part: we can totally reprogram our muscle memory. It takes one conscious second to check yourself and say, “Hey, experience X, so we’ve been here before, how has my programmed response been working out? What if we tried this a little differently?” With enough practice (and a bit of patience and self-love) we can rewire our responses to certain experiences and situations to better serve us. There will be slips. We’ll fall back into those old habits and thoughts. It’s okay. We’re human. But in time those yucky, dark spots that we find ourselves falling into in certain situations will be obsolete.

    I’m practicing, in oh so many ways. Final exam preparations included. It’s working. Start with a piece of Spiced Apple Molasses Cake.

    Spiced Apple Molasses Cake 

    Slightly adapted from Real Simple 

    • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
    • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
    • 5 apples (I used fuji) peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

    Heat oven to 350° F. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, whisk together the oil, molasses, brown sugar, egg, ginger, vanilla and ½ cup boiling water. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Add the apples last, folding generously to disperse evenly throughout the mixture. Pour batter into an oiled and floured cake pan, or cast iron skillet. Bake for 45 minutes (closer to 55 with the cast iron) until it passes the toothpick test. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Enjoy as a dessert or breakfast cake with a cup of french pressed coffee.

  4. A Seat at the Table

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    My parents never arranged a separate kid’s table and a grown-ups table during holiday meals. The youngsters ate what the adults ate and participated in the same rituals of passing the biscuits, hoarding the gravy, and holding each others warm, eager hands in gratitude for another meal, another year in good health and humor.

    Such a simple act of inclusion, a seat at the table. An act of affirmation, really… You, yes you, young one, have a unique and important way of looking at the world.  There is so much to be grateful for during the holidays, but a seat at the table has been a gift I’ve probably undervalued until lately.

    Respect was a reciprocal value in my house growing up – give respect, receive respect. Our opinions and perspectives were encouraged but more importantly, my parents invited us to the table and then they listened. They had enough respect to sit with us and walk alongside us in our crazy ideas. I know better now, as I’ve aged, that some people never get a seat at the table, no matter how old they are. I get it now. I’ve been on the outside, I’ve seen and felt what it’s like for youth to be dismissed as naïveté. Even now when I don’t get “a seat at the table” (figuratively speaking) I remember this. I give thanks for this. What a gift it is to for people to take us seriously.

    Thanksgiving has come and gone, but the table is there at every moment of each day to sit, stand, walk beside someone and give them room and respect to speak their truth. Through the rest of the year who will you invite to a seat at the table? Invite them. Just sit there. Really look at them. Hear their story. Reach out to the younger folk in your clan too – see them, affirm them. They’ll remember.

    This turned out to be much more festive than I first anticipated while wandering the aisles at the market today. I imagine it would make a great holiday side, but an even better weeknight meal turned sack-lunch. If kale isn’t your idea of a party dish, try spinach instead.

    Pomegranate + Kale + Pearl Onion Orzo 

    • 1 large bunch of kale (or two, if you’re a go-getter)
    • 2 pomegranates
    • 2 cups pearl onions
    • 2 shallot bulbs
    • 2 1/2 cups orzo

    Olive Oil + Orange + Honey Dressing

    • 1/3 cup good olive oil
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • juice of 1/2 an orange
    • 1 tsp raw honey

    Bring 2 medium-large pots to a boil with a bit of salt. In the first pot, boil pearl onions for 7-10 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, then remove skins. Set aside. For the second pot, boil orzo with a splash of olive oil for 5-7 minutes or until tender. Remove, strain, but do not rinse.

    Break open pomegranates one at a time, massaging out the seeds into a large bowl. Pick out the little white fibrous bits as you go along. This  can be a bit messy for the first time pomegranate handler, wear an apron! Alternatively, you could purchase pom. seeds in the produce section of your grocery. Once finished, return to the onions. to remove skins, cut off the bottom stem portion and peel the rest with your fingers. Cut in half and toss with the seeds in the big bowl. Finely dice the shallots and stir with the seeds and onions.

    Rinse out the onion pot and bring another bit of water to heat. Remove kale leaves from the tough spine and chop until very small bits. Not quite a mince, but a good chop. When the water is almost to a boil, immerse the kale and blanch for no more than 1 minute. Remove, strain the water, and toss with the pomegranate, onions, and so forth.

    Slowly stir in cooked orzo, 1 cup at a time. Prepare the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, salt, orange juice (a little pulp is great too), and the honey. Pour over the entire bowl and stir again to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

  5. The Ordinary Instant

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    “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” ― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

    This is my only offering this week. Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. Death reminds us that our time on this planet is precious and unknown. All we have is this day. Today.  Ask yourself how much did you love? Would it be enough?

    Persimmon Scones

    With guidance from Tartine

    • 3 cups persimmons, chopped
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 2 tsp butter
    • 3 tsp sugar
    • 4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 T. baking powder
    • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1 cup  unsalted butter, very cold
    • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk or dairy-free alternative
    • (optional glaze or reduction, see footnotes)

    Preheat the oven to 400′. In a medium saucepan over high heat, melt 2 teaspoons of butter with vanilla and sugar, add chopped persimmons. Reduce heat and stir for 5-10 minutes until softened. Set aside.

    Combine flour, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Add sugar, salt, and stir together. Cut or shave the butter into dry ingredients. Use a fork or whisk to break up the butter into small chunks throughout the mixture.

    Add the buttermilk, then the persimmons. Mix lightly with a wooden spoon until the dough holds together, adding buttermilk or the reserved persimmon liquid to the dough as needed.

    Dust a piece of parchment paper with flour and turn out the dough. Pat the dough into a rectangle (if making round scones, er, hockey pucks like mine) or into two circles, about 1-2″ thick. Using a round cutter, press out scones and lay on a baking sheet with parchment paper making sure to leave at least 1″ of space between each scone. Sprinkle raw sugar over the tops, generously, and bake for 25-35 minutes until just slightly browned.

    *I think this Maple Nut Cream from Adrienneats, or a Maple Glaze from The Healthy Green Kitchen would make winning toppers to these guys. They’re more on the biscuit end, so a hit of sweet frosting or glaze would really make these a treat.

Let's get in Touch

I wish I could make coffee dates with you all. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line with questions, comments, concerns, or just to say Hi. I like that. There is nothing more uplifting than an email from a a fresh contact or kindred spirit.

I can be reached through this contact form and at happyolks [at] gmail [dot] com.