Tag Archives: spicy

a farmer’s optimism: feta and herb meatballs with roasted red pepper and chard conchiglie (as seen my my iphone)

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“The farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”           — Will Rodgers

It’s absolutely bucketing outside – the kind of rain that recalls the old ‘cats and dogs’ idiom; the sort that keeps you from attending a yoga class you’d virtuously scheduled into your day for fear of getting ‘soaked to the bone’ while racing from car to studio, and the type that commands warm socks and your favorite hoodie as the only acceptable attire.

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For those of you that do not live in Southern California, and for me, previously, at various (well, most) points in my life, this kind of rain is usually a bummer.  Maybe it’s just that you tend to remember these sort of negative things, but in my memories, heavy rain – or any bad weather, really – has an unfortunate tendency of picking up just as a plane carrying your best friend touches down for a weekend visit, or on the very weekend that you were planning a backyard fete.  You know what I mean – inclement weather always seems to happen right at the wrong time.

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But this time, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  We’re settled into our new house in Santa Barbara, the last of the scuffed-up and tape-heavy corrugated boxes have been broken down and hauled away, and we’re having our inaugural rainfall.  Not just any old rainfall though – a rainfall that has been hoped, prayed, and danced for by anyone and everyone in the state of drier-than-bone-dry-California (and my Mother, way across the country on Cape Cod, who has been anxiously watching the storm crawl across the doppler for the better part of a week!)

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Here in unusually hot and sunny California – and particularly in South – we’ve managed to get ourselves in a real predicament as far as the water supply is concerned….or complete lack thereof, I should say. Upon the first fat drops hitting the roof you could hear a collective squeal of joy, and when you live on an avocado farm – one that has become increasingly sunburnt and parched under this ultra-sunny Winter sky – a few days of much needed soaking feels like hitting the jackpot.

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Of course a few days of rain will do anything but solve the drought – it’s a huge help, that’s no question – but we are doing everything in our power to conserve, conserve, conserve around here.  That means a 5 gallon bucket in the shower to catch the first few chilly minutes (which in turn gets dumped on the roses), being aware of and reducing the flow when washing dishes and brushing teeth, setting dishwashers and washing machines to their express settings (read: faster and still totally adequate), and recalling the old hippie mantra, “If it’s yellow….”

Crunchy stuff, right?

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on thirty plus one: caramel catfish with fresno chili quinoa

caramel catfish with fresno chili quinoa header

My birthday falls exactly two weeks after New Year’s Day every single year, cementing the fact that the new year feels even more like a new beginning. Today (well, at 11:17pm tonight, to be precise) I lurch forward and firmly entrench myself completely in my thirties, jettisoning that fresh thirty-years-young title for the more vague “thirty-something”; an alias that, I suspect, I will firmly grasp ahold of till it is wrenched from my forty-year-old-fists at the very last moment of the eleventh hour.

caramel catfish with fresno chili quinoa

But beside the fact that I get increasingly more giddy to be ID’d when ordering up a fancy libation at a swank cocktail bar, or that I find myself stocking my medicine cabinet with creams, serums, and masks that promise to deliver a wrinkle-free and youthful visage, getting older – especially lately – is a notion I am embracing with gusto.

caramel catfish and fresno chili quinoa - fish sauce and garlic

James and I have a birthday tradition where we surprise each other with dinner at a restaurant that is kept a secret right up till the moment we pull in the parking lot. This tradition started way back when we were still twenty-somethings in NYC (and early ones, at that!), and was made all the more fun by the fact that trying to guess where we’d be eating out of the thousands of choices that the city proffered was nearly impossible.  (Though, for the record, I was much better than He at guessing.)

caramel catfish and fresno chili quinoa - diced fresno

I’m not cooking tonight (which also means I get to dress up a lil’ fancy and skip out on dishes – hooray for the little things in life!), but if I was, I would make this here caramel catfish.

I know — I can practically see your confused expression through the screen right now, and I know you’re thinking ‘the stuff that goes on candy apples on top of….catfish?!’

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individual chipotle turkey meatloaves (with homemade chipotle bbq sauce)

individual chipotle turkey meatloaves

I had wondered if it would ever feel like ‘Fall’ in San Francisco, and the answer is a resounding YES! Despite the fact that my previous Mid-West and Eastern homes have harkened in this lovely and crisp season with a more pronounced and defined transition occuring somewhere in mid to late September, now that we have settled into the tail ends of October (!), there are finally crunching leaves underfoot, tall boots and leggings tromping up and over the hills, and the return of the painfully ubiquitous “PSL” (that’s ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte’ for those of you not ITK [duh…’In The Know’]).

individual chipotle turkey meatloaves - chipotles

And, speaking of which, not to be a curmudgeon, but I’ve really had it with the Pumpkin Spice Latte hysteria. Beyond and beside the fact that I am a self-professed avoider of all things SBUX (I’ll take my daily fix from a janky corner coffee shop with some personality any day…..or, better yet, a freshly brewed cup of Stumptown (swoon!) from my pals over at Le Marais), I just can’t wrap my head around something that smells like the instant nausea trigger that is a Yankee Candle store and manages to pack 470 calories (yes, really) in that massive “Venti” size that has morphed into somewhat of a fashion accessory.

individual chipotle turkey meatloaves - fresh veggies

Sure I get giddy when I see the return of my favorite totally-fake-food, candy corn, at the corner drug store, and I’m absolutely aware that anything made of sugar, corn syrup (um, more sugar), and wax has nutritional benefits situated somewhere soundly below 0, but let’s get real folks. That’s what Fall is really about.

individual chipotle turkey meatloaves - cumin

In other news, I’ve been eyeballs deep in that project I hinted of a few posts back, which incidentally was also a few months back. (I’m sorry! Again.) I’m thisclose to sharing with you everything about the baby I’ve been working very hard to hatch, and, incidentally, it has nothing to do with cooking, writing, or being in the general vicinity of the kitchen. It does however have to do with some very pretty and very sparkly things, and I can promise you that I’ll be looping you in in the next few weeks.

individual chipotle turkey meatloaves - chopped chipotles

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it’s a wrap: pork & quinoa lettuce cups with thai chili, bell pepper, and coconut cream

pork & quinoa lettuce cups with thai chili, bell pepper, and coconut cream

I made these lettuce cups a few weeks back, and, lemmetellya — these bad boys are a keeper.

pork & quinoa lettuce cups, quinoa rinsed and ready to cook

I’m not generally one to wrap things up in lettuce and call it a day (I’m sorry, but is there anything more depressing than watching someone attempt to wrap a juicy cheeseburger in a flimsy wisp of romaine lettuce and proclaim that they truly don’t even miss the bun?), but I will admit that sometimes when I crave something that normally requires some sort of vehicle to get it from Point A (the plate) to Point B (your mouth), I don’t actually feel like noshing on said (usually bready) vehicle.

pork & quinoa lettuce cups, fresh thai chilis - warm & spicy!

Tortillas, wraps, pitas – I do love all of them, but after recalling pizza, fish tacos, and a pita-fueled mezze platter on my list of eats week-to-date, I was feeling a bit breaded out.

pork & quinoa lettuce cups, fresh grated ginger & garlic

Enter these lettuce wraps – where the exclusion of any wrap-type thing adds to the intensity of the flavors and lets the ingredients shine. Here, sauteed ground pork is mixed up and folded together with crunchy bell peppers, spicy thai chili rounds, and a hefty dose of garlic and ginger, and the whole lot is bound together by a silky hit of coconut cream.

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easy but good: broccoli (they’ll actually want to eat) with chili flake, lemon, and garlic

broccoli they'll actually want to eat, roasted up with garlic, chili, and fresh lemon

When I sheepishly tell someone that I write a blog focused mainly on food and cooking, the inevitable next question is if I blog everything I cook or make to eat.

I think (hope?) you know that the answer is definitely not.

organic broccoli crown

It’s a totally valid question – there are a lot of “food bloggers”* out there who make it their prerogative to document each and every morsel that goes in their mouth – but unfortunately, if you saw a good majority of the things that I call “Dinner” around here, quite frankly, you might never come back again.

*Can we agree that the label ‘food blogger’ makes one sound like the most annoying human being, ever? File it right up there with “Foodie.”

broccoli stems peeled and ready to be cut

I’ve been known to consider a bowl of cinnamon puffins and almond milk a fine supper (with sliced strawberries if I’m feelin’ real fancy), and while James needs decidedly more structure when it comes to the last meal of the day, he never winges or whines when I present him with a bowl of reheated leftovers over toast gussied up with some hot sauce, or even when I freak out over the half-full odds and ends in our refrigerator and/or freezer, and present him with a “tofu-scramble-surprise.”

slivered broccoli stems

I gotta be honest with you though, my tofu-scramble-surprises aren’t half bad.

Trust.

broccoli florets

So no, I do not snap pictures and write about everything I cook. Sometimes because those things barely constitute a meal, and sometimes because I think what I am making is so simple and straightforward it’s boring. Like this broccoli. This broccoli shows up at our table at least every couple of weeks, because it’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s cheap, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s super tasty. It’s just roasted broccoli though – just that vegetable that everyone loves to hate, and just the type of barely-even-a-recipe thing I’m sure you don’t want to hear about.

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as you like it: make-your-own black bean bowls

black bean bowls - healthy vegetarian dinners that you can customize with your own toppings

There are many dishes that remind me of my childhood – twice baked potatoes, burgers off the grill, and pastrami and swiss grilled cheeses with grainy mustard, to name a few – but perhaps the one that has made the largest imprint on my culinary psyche is something that my family called “curry.”

black bean bowl black beans

Totally indiscernible as such by anyone who has ever had what I consider now to be a “real curry” (that is, a thick and creamy Thai or Indian coconut milk based stew that is heavily spiced and served with thinly sliced meat or seafood and lots of veggies), our version of curry was sort of a 1970’s style Americanized amalgamation of things that you would never find in what I now know to be the more traditional type.

black bean bowl avocado

black bean bowl rice

Our curry consisted of lamb that was spiced, roasted, and shredded, and then accompanied by the most exciting part of all: a dazzling array of condiments nestled into tiny glass bowls that from which we were able to pick and choose ourselves.  There was always a heaping bowl of white rice, and of course that lovely lamb, but then in these smaller bowls that dotted the table there was canned crushed pineapple, chopped hard boiled egg, crumbled and crisped up bits of bacon, shredded coconut, plump raisins, shelled salty peanuts, and, my favorite treat of all, mango chutney.

black bean bowl jicama

As a child, the actual lamb was perhaps the least exciting part – I could barely wait to saddle up to the table and start customizing my plate with whatever my little heart desired, usually leaning towards a lot of rice, pineapple, raisins, and huge scoop of that sweet and sour chutney.

black bean bowl toppings

But it didn’t matter; it was curry night, and no one was about to tell you exactly how you had to eat yours, thankyouverymuch – that was the whole point.  A couple of weeks ago while I was on one very long flight, traversing the Pacific Ocean, traveling back to the States from Sydney, I was thumbing through a special issue of Gourmet, and came across the idea for these black bean bowls.

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simple, fresh, friday: avocado greek yogurt salad with jalapeno + cilantro

Granted by coming to you with yet another vegetable based dish I’m taking the risk of sending you running for greener pastures; pastures that are filled with more carnivorous delights, like, oh, say, succulent barbecued ribs or juicy grill-marked burgers – you know, those things we’re all supposed to be making in high July.  But honestly, around here lately, that’s just not exactly what we’ve been eating.

It’s been more about simplicity, and ease of execution.  Much more about instant gratification and much less about intricate steps and complicated processes.  Or — let’s be honest here — much more about getting to that glass of wine on the couch, and much less about standing in the kitchen while enviously gazing over at one boy and his pug stretched out watching re-runs of Seinfeld.

(Especially if it’s the chocolate babka episode.  Or the chicken roaster.)

It’s easy to fall into a rut of simplicity, relying on dishes that you know deep down you only can take half-credit for, in that most of their deliciousness is completely dependent on the incredible quality of the ingredients you were lucky enough to stumble upon. It is Summer, after all, peak season for all but the best of mostly everything.

And on a day like today – a sunny, uncomplicated Friday with little on the agenda but a looming pit stop at the gym and a date at a new Boulder restaurant – there should be no muss and no fuss when it comes to lunch. A few quick slices here and stirs there that yields something healthy, fresh, and completely oven-free?

Where do I sign?

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