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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

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I’ve lived in my little studio in Eastie for a year now, and for most of that time, I’ve been chucking my fruit pits, veggie peels, eggshells and tea leaves (so many tea leaves) into a countertop compost bin I bought from Target. (No perks or affiliate links here; I just did some searching for sleek, easy-to-clean countertop bins, and I like this one.)

I don’t have space (or need) for a big compost bin of my own, but the City of Boston’s pilot compost project, charmingly named Project Oscar, includes a couple of bins down the hill from my house. Every few days, I tie up the green compostable bag filled with flower stems, orange peels and zucchini ends, and carry it down the hill, where I dump it into the bigger compost bin and hope whoever picks it up is hauling it away to some good purpose.

Sometimes, I think about Natalie Goldberg’s chapter on “Composting” in Writing Down the Bones, where she compares writing (and mulling over your lived experiences) to composting our kitchen scraps. “Our bodies are garbage heaps,” she says, “and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. […] But this does not come all at once. It takes time.”

I like the notion that I’m diverting some of my kitchen leavings away from the landfill, and sending them where they can do some good. Sometimes I wonder who else is tossing their kitchen scraps into the bins over by Maverick Square, and what they will eventually become, and what they will feed. (Sometimes, I simply hold the bag at arm’s length – even pre-compost starts to smell – and promise myself to bring it down to the bins sooner next time.)

I’ve found it difficult, these last months, to create anything of substance, other than book reviews, the occasional meal, and countless cups of tea. I tend to beat myself up about this, but then (sometimes) I remember Natalie and her advice: “Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.”

I’ll keep doing that. And I’ll keep composting my apple cores and bell pepper stems and those tea leaves, hoping they contribute to a richness I can’t yet see.

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Hello, friends. Somehow it is August, and though we are so many weeks into pandemic life that I have lost count, summer is still summer. We’ve had a stretch of gorgeous hot weather (though we desperately need some rain) and I am soaking up all the pleasures summer has to offer, while I can. Here’s a list:

  • Sea breezes from the harbor through my kitchen window, which makes the heat in my apartment just about bearable.
  • Stone fruits and berries galore: cherries, blackberries, peaches and nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, tiny tart red currants.
  • Amanda’s spicy salsa roja with any chips I can get my hands on.

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  • Morning runs along the harborwalk (the earlier I go, the more shaded it is), watching for white herons and Black-eyed Susans, and the boats on the water.
  • Related: funky tan lines and freckles on my shoulders. (I promise I do wear sunscreen.)
  • Evening yoga in Piers Park, whether we’re sweating or catching a cool breeze.
  • Sliced cucumbers from a friend’s garden with Samira’s spicy muhammara – red pepper spread with walnuts and pomegranate.

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  • Sunflowers, roses and catching up with my florist.
  • Library hold pickup, about once every 10 days.
  • My new-to-me bike, which I’ve dubbed my Wild Irish Rose.
  • The music of I’m With Her, Our Native Daughters and several other groups I heard at Newport last year. (Related: reliving that magic.)
  • Making chilled cucumber soup with dill, basil and Greek yogurt – one of the perks of garden caretaking. (See also: fresh marigolds.)

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  • Smoothies from Eagle Hill Cafe, a newish neighborhood staple run by two friendly women.
  • Revisiting some childhood classics, including Maud Hart Lovelace’s stories.
  • Daylilies, Queen Anne’s lace, beach roses, hydrangea, Rose of Sharon, bee balm, nasturtiums and other wildflowers. The world is lush and green and colorful right now.

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  • Bike rides with my guy – around the Seaport (where he works), over to Cambridge, around Eastie (where I live) or just about anywhere.
  • Discovering new farmers’ markets on the bike. The Harvard farmers’ market has my heart, but I like visiting other ones.
  • Jasmine tea lemonade or iced black tea from (where else?) Darwin’s.

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  • Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski mystery series – my newest obsession.
  • Nicole Gulotta’s #30DayHaikuProject on Instagram, which I’m enjoying.

What small pleasures is summer offering you?

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red-kettle-stoveIn these strange stay-at-home days, I’m spending (even) more time in my kitchen than ever before.

In my little studio, the kitchen area (read: stove, oven, sink, cabinets, fridge) is ranged along one wall of the apartment, close to the table where I spend my workdays. As I try to settle into some sort of a rhythm, I’ve been noticing how my kitchen routines have changed.

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My red teakettle is getting a lot of use: I fill it up to half a dozen times a day. Instead of walking over to the shared kitchen in my office building, I’m getting my constant water refills from the kitchen sink. I am eating a lot fewer granola bars for snacks, and more yogurt with granola, or slices of toast with fruit or cheddar or avocado. And while I like to cook normally, now I’m cooking (and/or reheating leftovers) for almost every meal. My Tupperware containers are not getting their usual workout, but my pots and pans are getting washed more often, and my countertop compost bin is filling up much faster.

I’m still using my travel mugs sometimes for my morning walks, and I’m baking a batch of scones or superhero muffins nearly every week. I’ve been cooking mostly soups, stews and other hearty dishes that will last me for several meals, though occasionally I’ll fry up a couple of eggs or make some pasta. I’m also trying to plan ahead for my weekly shopping trips to Trader Joe’s, though I can also get some essentials at the bodega if I run out.

Mostly, it’s a mindset shift: I can’t count on popping in somewhere to grab an ingredient or a meal on the go (not that I’m on the go, much). It’s learning to be here now, as frustrating as that sometimes is (and washing so many more dishes). It’s giving thanks for the sunlight that often streams in the kitchen windows. And it’s reminding myself (again) to fill up that water glass.

How have your kitchen rhythms changed in these times?

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Now more than ever, I enjoy cooking, especially in the colder months: hearty soups, crumbly scones, buttery scrambled eggs (with endless cups of tea). Last July, though, I moved into a studio apartment during an unusually hot Boston summer. After weeks of takeout, stovetop huevos rancheros and ready meals from Trader Joe’s, I needed some new kitchen inspiration.

Enter Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant, colorful cookbook about not only feeding yourself, but enjoying it. I’ve made her risotto, her lemon pancakes, her spicy coconut-sweet potato soup… the list goes on. But more than her recipes, I love Miller’s approach: she insists, as a longtime single person, that investing the time and effort to feed oneself well is worth it. As a recent divorcée, I need that reminder on the regular.

My success with Miller’s recipes inspired me to flip back through some perennial favorites, like Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. I bake Wizenberg’s Scottish scones at least twice a month, but recently made her ratatouille for the first (and second, and third) time in years. Like Wizenberg, when I am dining alone on something that delicious, “I lick my knife until it sparkles, because there’s no one there to catch me.”

For a broader perspective on solo cooking, I turn to Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, an eclectic essay collection edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Inspired by Laurie Colwin’s eponymous essay (which kicks off the anthology), these pieces, some with recipes, recount the delightful, the depressing and the quirkily indulgent aspects of setting a solo table. Many of the contributors recall solitary meals (or seasons) with deep fondness, even nostalgia. Cooking for one can feel like a depressing prospect, but these books help remind me that there’s a wealth of flavor, adventure and–yes–true sustenance to be found at a table for one.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran at the end of March. I submitted it before the virus hit, but it’s more applicable in some ways now than ever.  

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We’ve (nearly) made it through February, and I’ve read some great books lately. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom
Broom is the youngest of 12 children born to Ivory Mae, who bought the titular house in New Orleans East in 1961. Broom’s memoir relates her family’s history with the house and neighborhood (wrecked by Hurricane Katrina) and her own wanderings, searching for a place to call home. Started slowly, but it’s powerful and thought-provoking.

Hid from Our Eyes, Julia Spencer-Fleming
In Millers Kill, N.Y., an unidentified young woman is found dead: barefoot, wearing a party dress, not a mark on her. The case is uncannily like two others from 1952 and 1972, and Chief Russ Van Alstyne (then a young Vietnam vet) was a person of interest in the latter. As Russ tries to solve all three cases, his wife Clare Fergusson is juggling priesthood, new motherhood, a new intern and other troubles. I love this series and this ninth entry (we’d been waiting a while) was excellent: well plotted with compelling characters and plenty of depth. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 7).

The Sweeney Sisters, Lian Dolan 
Liza, Maggie and Tricia Sweeney shared a (mostly) idyllic childhood in a WASPy Connecticut town. But after their father, literary light William Sweeney, dies, they discover their former neighbor, Serena, is really their half sister. A smart, witty novel of all four grown women grappling with these revelations; juicy and funny and full of heart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 28).

Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City, Wes Moore
Police violence against black men is (unfortunately) nothing new in this country. But after Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015, Baltimore exploded in protests and anger. Moore, himself a black Baltimore native, chronicles the week of the riots through the stories of seven people: protesters, lawyers, civic figures. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 14).

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Tessa Arlen
This book is my catnip: a British mystery set in wartime with a smart, witty heroine who feels a bit out of place. Poppy is a newly trained air raid warden who’s back from London patrolling her little village, when two local girls are murdered. With the help of her corgi, Bess, and a handsome American pilot, she tries to solve the case. So fun.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
I love this last book in the series: big, emotional, complex, satisfying, with so many great moments for so many characters. It’s a commitment but it’s one I’m always glad to make.

The Authenticity Project, Clare Pooley
How honest are we, really, with the people in our lives? That’s the question posed in a green notebook that London cafe owner Monica picks up. What’s written inside will have a ripple effect on her life and several others. I loved the characters in this sweet, fresh novel about secrets and friendship and admitting that life is messy.

Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself, Klancy Miller
I discovered Klancy via her risotto recipe on Cup of Jo, and have been loving her fresh, accessible cookbook full of yummy recipes and pithy advice on cooking for one. Favorites include her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, lemony pancakes, curried sweet potato-carrot soup, lentil soup, and that risotto.

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion, Catriona Menzies-Pike
I read this book two winters ago, right after I became a runner. I’ve been savoring it again, slowly, this winter as I run through the grief from my divorce and the joys and challenges of my new life. Menzies-Pike surprised herself by becoming a runner (like me), and she writes well and honestly about the gifts, frustrations and soul-deep change that running can offer. Also some fascinating feminist history here. Highly recommended.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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This is the winter of lunchtime runs, hauling my running gear and bright blue sneakers to work in my gray backpack so I can get out on the Esplanade twice a week or so, catching the sunshine and whatever warmth it provides.

This is the winter of all the puzzles, spread out on my friend Chrissy’s coffee table: NYC signs and Italian hillsides and bucolic New England landscapes, worked a piece at a time while we talk about our lives.

This is the winter of Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant cookbook about doing just that. I’ve been eating her lentil soup (stuffed with other veggies), her lemony pancakes, her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, for weeks.

This is the winter of almost no snow and only a few extended cold snaps. I’m missing the brilliance of sunlight on reflected snowbanks (and worried about what it means for the climate) even as I give thanks for the lack of grey slush.

This is the winter of settling into Eastie, continuing to make a home in this neighborhood that became mine last year. I’m growing paperwhites in my kitchen window, meeting a few more neighbors, going to yoga and strength training classes at The Point on the regular.

This is the winter of a(nother) Harry Potter reread, undertaken in tandem with someone I love, walking alongside Harry and his companions as they learn and grow and face unbelievable evil with courage and love.

This is the winter of sharp loneliness and sudden tears, still mourning the death of my marriage and adjusting (in all ways) to a new landscape without it.

This is the winter of avocado toast, handfuls of clementines, chunks of Trader Joe’s crumbly English cheddar, Molly’s scones and Jessica Fechtor’s oatmeal cookies, soup simmered in my red stockpot, endless cups of Earl Grey.

This is the winter of runs along the Harborwalk, vivid sunset light reflected in the water, marking the tides and the miles with my feet and the pounding of my heart.

This is the winter of Tuesday indoor picnics in the Pru, hearty soups decanted into red-lidded Tupperware and heated in the office microwave, cloth napkins and on-the-go utensils and laughter before we hug and go our separate ways.

This is the winter of starting to heal, doing my best to welcome unexpected joys where they appear.

What does life look like for you this winter?

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We’ve had nearly a week of grey skies and misty rain – yesterday was the first sunny day since last Saturday. I finally felt I could breathe again.

In between meetings, construction noise at work and cooking dinner, here’s what is saving my life now:

  • Fresh pomegranates – seeding them is somehow satisfying, and the seeds themselves are delicious, like little tart jewels.
  • My colleagues’ sly humor and good cheer, which came in especially handy during a three-hour meeting (yes, really) this week.
  • The olive green textured leggings my mom passed on to me this fall, which (it turns out) go with nearly everything.
  • Replacing a few worn-out wardrobe staples: ankle boots, slippers, running shoes.
  • Shalane Flanagan’s superhero muffins – filling, delicious and healthy.

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  • My red geraniums, which I’ve brought indoors for the winter. So far, they are thriving.
  • Starting (another) reread of the Harry Potter series.
  • Several recent phone and in-person chats with dear friends.
  • It’s soup season and I’ve been making my classics: black bean, chicken enchilada, tomato, jalapeño. Yum.
  • Related: leftovers for lunch and dinner, some days.
  • My new bright teal running headband.

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  • Related: lunchtime running on the Esplanade, when I can swing it. (Those skies.)
  • Sunshine, whenever I can get it.
  • Grocery delivery and online shopping – without a car, it’s a huge help.
  • Strong black tea, several times a day.
  • Maggie Smith’s gentle, wise, beautifully crafted tweets, which always end with “Keep moving.”

What’s saving your life on these dark, chilly evenings?

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I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, these days. But I am always looking for ways to add a little more joy to the everyday, especially during the winter. So I floated an idea by my husband recently: how about we try 19 new recipes in 2019?

I know myself, and it’s super easy for me to rotate between the same half-dozen meals (or, in the winter, the same few standby soups). And while there’s nothing wrong with huevos on a Monday night after boot camp, a big pot of simmering tomato soup, or tacos (always tacos), I could always use a little meal inspiration – and a few more veggies – in my life.

Nineteen recipes seems doable: an average of one or two per month, a way to interrupt or spice up the usual pattern without hijacking it altogether. There’s usually at least one recipe in each month’s Real Simple that I want to try, and I have a dozen cookbooks I hardly ever use. I’m hoping this goal will push me to do a bit of experimenting – maybe even find a new favorite or two.

We started off with a simple chicken adobo recipe (from Real Simple, naturally), then dipped back into Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (an old favorite) to try sweet potato-and-spinach quesadillas. With guacamole, of course.

The verdict in both cases? So far, so good. I’ll check back later in the year.

How do you find new recipes to try? Any tips?

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Two corn tortillas, fried in a small sauté pan. Two eggs, fried one after the other in the same pan. Black beans, laced with salsa roja and a few shakes of cumin. Grated cheese. Jarred salsa verde (or Amanda’s fresh salsa, if we’ve got it). Tortilla chips. And a tall glass of water.

For months now, this has been my dinner on Monday nights. After a long, full day at the office and Erin’s yoga class, it’s the only thing I want to eat. (Especially after adding in a boot camp workout before yoga, for the last six weeks.) The meal itself – spicy, nourishing and so easy – and the ritual of preparing it are both saving my life these days.

Mondays are usually a full day at the office: catching up on the weekend’s headlines, gearing up for the week with its projects and meetings. There’s always at least one curveball and usually a lot of email. By the time I leave the office, I’m physically weary and mentally wiped out.

It’s no secret that I love a lifesaving routine. While I reserve – and relish – the right to change things up sometimes, the truth is that my daily and weekly rituals keep me grounded, fed, rested and sane (for the most part). When I realized, several months ago, that I was craving huevos every Monday night, I thought: why not make it official? So now huevos is on the menu every Monday.

We make sure to restock the necessary ingredients during the weekend grocery shop, and we pull out the pans and the egg carton as soon as we walk in the door. My husband usually works late on Mondays, so we ride home together, catching up on our days. Once we’re home, we tag-team the prep: setting the table, pouring the water, flipping the tortillas, frying the eggs.

As with all routines, I’m betting this one won’t last forever: eventually we’ll get sick of it, or I’ll switch my workout night, or we’ll just decide to try something new. But for now, at least, on Mondays we make huevos. And they are delicious.

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jer burritos

Making one last batch of chicken burritos (with homemade guacamole), in between moving boxes from the old home to the new.

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