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Cook Happy Project Week Four

Hello there. How was your week?

I came home Wednesday night from a week’s vacation in Fort Lauderdale with a good friend. It was my first trip as a single woman in 11 years, a bold act of self-love, if I may say so.

During my time on the beach and resting in the Airbnb I revisited the book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, a beautiful explanation of Buddhist principles by Pema Chodron. I typically resist rereading books (there’s so many books out there to be read!) but I found it richly rewarding and tremendously worthwhile to review teachings that, as they say in the rooms of recovery, are “simple but not easy.”

It was gratifying to realize that what were once abstract concepts to me, like grasping at straws, are now a tangible part of my daily life. Because they have to be. Sitting with uncomfortable feelings, acknowledging painful emotions and  thoughts as a natural part of the human experience. Practicing self-compassion, which then extends outward into gentleness with others. Breathing suffering in, mine and others’, breathing out love and positivity (a technique called “Tonglen”).

Now that I’ve returned to my home kitchen, I am motivated to load up on the veggies and start my day with yet another sweet bread, this time filled with cranberries, pecans, and orange zest and juice. It amazes me that I could easily consume two entire heads of broccoli when it’s roasted at a high temperature with olive oil, salt, pepper, a little lemon juice, minced garlic, and topped with a light drizzle of Tahini paste. (Note: the Tahini adds quite a nutty flavor, and the broccoli is just as good without it. It’s a nice variation, though, worth giving a try.) 

I return to Ina Garten’s roasted onion recipe again and again—a tasty (and cheap) way to use up the onion stragglers in your fridge drawer and a rather elegant side dish in its simplicity.

I snagged a Food Network magazine at the airport and found a recipe for maple-braised carrots, another simple side that involves plenty of cathartic chopping. 

And finally, my trip included a tasty Cuban meal filled with garlic-roasted shrimp, buttery toast and mango butter, as well as lip-smacking roasted sweet plantains from an empanada stand, followed up by Jamaican patties filled with spicy beef. But it is January after all. So I’m keeping it festive (and easy!) with the aforementioned cranberry bread, which comes together with a spatula in one large mixing bowl.

Thank you for following my ramblings. Read on for my version of the recipes.

With Love,
Ginger

Roasted Broccoli with Tahini Paste
Adapted from the Food Network

Ingredients
Two small heads broccoli
Extra-virgin olive oil
Three garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and pepper
Lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
Tahini sauce

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Stem broccoli; cut into small florets. Mince garlic. Spread on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Toss the broccoli and garlic with several generous glugs of olive oil, a few pinches of kosher salt, black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. (Feel free to add a pinch of red pepper flakes if the spirit moves you.)
  • Roast in the oven for approximately 20 minutes, allowing broccoli to caramelize. Don’t worry if the garlic turns brown.
  • Coat a metal spoon with Tahini and drizzle (or “flick”) over the roasted broccoli.

Roasted Onions
Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients
6 small-ish yellow onions
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon whatever fresh or dried herbs you have on hand (I used sage)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Peel and quarter each onion, slicing the quarters in half and then separating the layers into a large bowl. Mince the garlic.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, minced garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. Pour the extra-virgin olive oil into a one-cup glass liquid measuring cup and slowly whisk into the other ingredients.
  • Pour the dressing over the onions and toss well to coat.
  • Dump the onions onto a large sheet pan lined with foil and roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and caramelized. Sprinkle with any remaining fresh herbs you’d like to use. Enjoy!

Maple-Braised Carrots
Adapted from the Food Network

Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs carrots (Approximately 8 large carrots)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Zest of half a lemon
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
Any fresh herbs you want to top with (such as parsley or chives)

Instructions

  • Trim and peel all the carrots. Slice lengthwise, then halve the lengths and cut into large chunks.
  • Peel and grate a 2-3 inch piece of ginger root on a microplane, until you have about 2 teaspoons.
  • Zest the lemon and measure out your other ingredients.
  • Melt the unsalted butter over medium-high heat on a large cast iron skillet and add the grated ginger for 30 seconds. Add the carrots, maple syrup, lemon zest, salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, then cover (with a large tray if nothing else) and simmer, covered, for approximately 15 minutes.
  • Top with extra salt, if needed, and any fresh herbs you’d like.

Cranberry-Orange Pecan Bread
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3/4 cup pecan pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
2 medium-to-large oranges
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 to 2/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups frozen cranberries
2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F. and grease a standard 6-cup loaf pan.
  • Toast the pecan pieces in a dry skillet over medium heat, approximately 4-5 minutes, until warm and fragrant. Microwave the butter in a glass bowl and allow it to cool.
  • Dump the cup of granulated sugar into a large mixing bowl. Zest both oranges using a microplane and rub zest into sugar with your fingers to allow the flavors to release.
  • Juice the two oranges into a 1-cup liquid measuring cup; add as much sour cream as needed to allow the contents to reach the 1-cup line.
  • Stir the cooled melted butter into the sugar-zest mixture, as well as the egg.
  • Add the orange juice/sour cream mixture.
  • Sprinkle the salt, baking powder, and baking soda into the bowl; stir to combine.
  • Fold in the nuts and cranberries.
  • Add the 2 cups flour and stir until just mixed.
  • Transfer batter into the loaf pan and bake for approximately one hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cook Happy Project Week Three

Hello, reader. I come to you today, midweek, because I will be out of town this Sunday and wanted to stay on track with regular posts.

Sondra Primeaux and Tammi Salas, formerly the hosts of The Unruffled Podcast about creativity in sobriety, introduced me to the concept of a “sober lush.” The sober lush may not drink, but she certainly knows how to indulge. Give her a soft cheese. A fig with a drizzle of fine honey. A facial. A massage. A nice candle. A stroll through the grocery store without a list, selecting items that call her name. A meander through a bookstore. Permission to lie in bed and listen to music. Permission to cancel plans. A cake pop for breakfast. (Can you tell this is familiar territory for me?)

Indulging in ways that don’t damage my health (or my wallet) has been a key part of my healing process through a difficult year 2021, and I plan to continue a smattering of these simple self-care practices into my next trip around the sun.

And so the “sober lush” persona is one I channeled this week in the kitchen, in my own way, buying myself a bouquet of fresh flowers, pumping jams from Spotify’s “Strong Independent Woman” playlist, and whipping up two hearty potato recipes to fill me up in this chilly, drizzly start to 2022.

The first for “roasted potato leek soup” is another sampling from Ina Garten’s Back to Basics cookbook. Indeed, this is a luscious sober lush’s brew, incorporating crème fraiche, heavy cream, and freshly grated Parmesan in addition to the heavily caramelized vegetables, but not without nutritional content in a generous heaping three cups of arugula. The process is made ever-so-much simpler if you have an immersion blender on hand. 

Peeling and chopping potatoes for the soup, the bag of leftover Yukon golds I had bought beckoned, as of to say, “Use me up sooner rather than later!” And how satisfying it was to extend the reach of this main ingredient with homemade latkes, using little more than a few tablespoons of flour, a whisked egg, and some salt and pepper. I believe it’s worth it to cook them in clarified butter versus vegetable oil, but if you don’t have the patience to make your own, consider keeping a pre-made jar of it in your fridge—also known as Ghee. It’s highly versatile and offers great flavor when sautéing vegetables. Oh. And spurtles. A Xmas gift from my mom, I used these to flip and stir the latkes. They are fun and handy silicone tools for all the moving-s*%# around that is part of cooking.

With that, I hope you enjoy the rest of the week and the coming weekend. Indulge in some starch, and treat yo self!

Ginger 

Roasted Potato and Leek Soup
Adapted from Back to the Basics

Ingredients
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed into 3/4-inch chunks
4 leeks, white and green parts, sliced and chopped, rinsed of all sand 
Olive oil 
Kosher salt
Black pepper
3 cups baby arugula, lightly packed
6 to 7 cups chicken stock 
3/4 cup heavy cream 
8 oz creme fraiche 
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese 

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil. Chop and wash the leeks. (I used a salad spinner to clear them of all sand. You want to do this thoroughly!) Place leeks on one baking sheet; peel and chop potatoes and place on the other sheet.
  • Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper over chopped leeks; repeat for the chopped potatoes. Roast for approximately 40 minutes until tender and caramelized. During this time, prepare a bowl of chicken stock (I used 7 cups water + 7 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon). Remove the leeks and add the arugula leaves over the potatoes, roasting for about 5 more minutes until the arugula has wilted. 
  • Dump the contents of both sheet pans into a large stock pot and add in a bit of the chicken stock. Use an immersion blender to puree everything. Keep adding stock and blending until you get a thick soup consistency. (You can also use a blender if necessary.) Add the heavy cream, crème fraiche, approximately 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Finish off with Parmesan cheese. 

Potato Latkes
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Food Network recipe

Ingredients
4 Yukon Gold potatoes
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg, whisked
Several heaping spoonfuls, Ghee

Directions

  • Rinse and peel the potatoes. Grate them on a box cheese grater and place the contents in a medium bowl. Wrap handfuls of the potato shreds in paper towels and wring out as much water as possible (wringing each handful twice if you can muster the patience).
  • Wipe out bowl and return potato shreds, adding the remaining ingredients and stirring together (how about with a spurtle?)
  • Heat the Ghee over medium heat. Add clumps of latke batter, big or small, whatever your prefer. Cook a few minutes on each side, paying close attention to the pan.

Oops, I lied—not done with you yet! So I was reminded this week of why I chose the “cook happy” moniker. I was feeling kind of down in the dumps—a combination of hard life stuff, gloomy January weather, a bit of boredom, perhaps— and I was able to restore my equilibrium by cranking up the aforementioned playlist and throwing together a little lemon pound cake, then working up a sweat to the tune of this silly Zumba workout. I typically have the cake ingredients on hand (and you could really sub out any citrus fruit), so it’s nice to have this recipe in my back pocket when I need to cook (or bake) myself back to happy. In all seriousness, it’s empowering to recognize that healthy and harmless mood-altering activities abound—“move a muscle, change a mood.” (A caveat: I did not make the sugar glaze. Not necessary, in my humble opinion!)

Easy Lemon Pound Cake
Adapted from the Food Network

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature if possible (or microwaved for 10 seconds)
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon juice (approximately 2 lemons’ worth, especially if you microwave them for 10 seconds first)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Generously butter a standard loaf pan.
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  • Cream the butter for several minutes using an electric mixer, if possible. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. (Be patient with this step. Whipping lots of air into the butter pays off!)
  • Add the sugar and cream for a few more minutes.
  • Add one egg at a time, mixing on a low speed to incorporate it in the batter.
  • Mix in the vanilla extract.
  • Add some of the lemon juice, alternating with the dry ingredients, until you achieve a nice thick batter.
  • Fold into the pan and bake for approximately one hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cook Happy Project Week Two

In my pursuit of peace and healing this past year, I’ve taken steps toward financial freedom that include using this free budgeting app. Planning and tracking my spending has offered me a greater sense of abundance, actually, reducing my guilt over small indulgences like Starbucks or lunch delivery, as long as I stay within the limits of my financial plan.

All this to say, I found myself scrounging to meet my grocery budget during the last week of December. The recipes that follow represent my attempt to enjoy good home cooking without draining my wallet. 

First, I made a big pot of lentils pulling from the recipe for “Roast Salmon with Warm Lentils” in the cookbook, Williams-Sonoma French. I had recently made them with baked salmon and decided the lentils were good enough to stand on their own. The process is simple enough—some cathartic vegetable chopping, a douse of olive oil, a few squeezes of lemon, several teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon … And voilà. You’re good to go.

The second recipe I’d like to share is another from The Joys of Baking. I prefer to eat bananas when they’re underripe and I can never eat my way through the bunch before they turn brown, so I’m always on the lookout for banana-filled baked goods. I’m a bit burned out on my go-to banana bread recipe, so I was pleased to discover “Banana Date Bread with Lime.” (Geez. How many times can I say banana?) This quick bread has a gentle and mild sweetness to it that I find quite refreshing. The dates are delicious, but in the spirit of frugality, I chose to replace them with dried cranberries I already had on hand. I suppose any dried fruit would do the trick.

Here’s to simple, satisfying, no-fuss cooking in the new year. See you next week.

Ginger

French Lentils 
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma French

Ingredients 
3/4 cup French green lentils, rinsed and drained 
4 cups water + 4 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon
4 tablespoons olive oil 
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley 
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil 

Instructions
Whisk together the water and Better Than Bouillon in a large liquid measuring cup (or mixing bowl). Chop all your veggies and herbs and juice your lemons (microwaving them for 10 seconds beforehand to get the most bang for your buck). 

Combine 3 1/4 cups of broth and lentils in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cover, simmering until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over a medium flame, adding 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then diced red onion. Sauté until softened, a good 7 minutes or so. Add the celery and carrot and cook until slightly softened, approximately 2 minutes. Add bell pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils to the skillet and sauté over medium heat, stirring often to combine the flavors, about 2 minutes. Pour in the lemon juice, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, chopped herbs, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

It’s that simple. Enjoy! Or serve with the baked salmon if you’re looking to prepare something a little more dressed up.

Tangy Banana Bread 
Adapted from The Joys of Baking 

Ingredients
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
2/3 cup granulated sugar 
4 teaspoons finely grated lime zest (approximately 4 small limes)
2 large eggs, room temperature 
11/4 cup mashed bananas (2-3 large bananas)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
6 oz dried fruit, such as chopped dates, cranberries, or raisins

Directions 
Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Generously butter a standard loaf pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium to large mixing bowl.

Beat butter, sugar, and lime zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, 3 to 5 minutes.

Best in the eggs one at a time, then banana, then vanilla. (I recommend measuring the mashed banana to ensure proper proportions of the main ingredient.) 

Fold in the dried fruit, then manually fold in dry ingredients with a large spatula. 

Transfer batter to a loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes (I believe mine was good to go at the 55-minute mark).

Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then flip out and cool completely. Or follow my lead, and eat directly out of the pan for the next week 🙂

Introducing the Cook Happy Project

Well hello there, reader.

Welcome to the Cook Happy Project, housed on my original personal blog and website, swirltocoat, which first helped me build my writer’s chops and eventually saw me through a career transition into full-time writing. All that to say, this site is equal parts cringe-inducing and affection-stirring for me, but I return to it because the philosophy behind “swirl to coat”—the idea of seizing the day, finding gratitude, and coating the pan of life with something added, whether that be writing or bee-keeping or cooking or stamp collecting, is a mindset that has truly, in the most literal sense, carried me through this past year.

To be clear, I am not talking about hobbies. What I a mean is more along the lines of what I’ve heard called a “proof of life exercise”—when faced with our mortality, such as in a pandemic, or a mental health crisis, or a divorce, or an addiction, and with the daily iteration of that, which we might call drudgery, or as the French like to say, “l’ennui,” we choose to follow the scent of what is life-affirming and humane and beautiful in our world … and … we do it, and then we document the process. In this way, we claim some degree of power over our own life story, despite the zillions of things over which we are powerless.

So my goal with this project of trying a few new recipes per week and then taking some time to reflect on the process each Sunday is to counteract the grief and melancholy I feel about my life’s personal challenges and to hold fast to the simple, life-sustaining pleasure of preparing a beautiful meal from fresh, raw ingredients. Or snack. Or dessert.

I’ve dubbed this the “Cook Happy Project” not because my end goal is happiness, per se, and certainly not because I aspire to pull myself up by my bootstraps—a quite unenlightened approach to healing, in my view—but rather, because I have found that cooking consistently sparks feelings of joy in me, spontaneously and effortlessly. Cooking (and baking) spur joy because they allow me to wholly immerse myself in the present moment, achieving a state of “flow,” and giving me the opportunity to serve others in a creative way.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to embark on my new year’s blogging journey one week early, beginning with two festive dessert recipes that I enjoyed during the week leading up to Christmas. The first is stuffed, poached pears, which is truly comfort food putting on airs as something fancier. I quickly ditched the bed of arugula and enjoyed my pear solo for breakfast and dessert. I also did away with the recipe’s instructions to baste them, savoring the ever-so-slightly caramelized flesh, and played up the sweetness factor with honey goat cheese instead of bleu.

The second is a winning gingerbread-with-mascarpone-swirl recipe, from a lovely cookbook called The Joys of Baking. The recipes are organized around different emotions, accompanied by narratives from the author’s life. These are a fun alternative to more vanilla, buttery Christmas cookie mainstays like Russian tea cakes, thumbprint jelly cookies, and cutout sugar cookies—and I was told by a co-worker who doesn’t like gingerbread that they struck the right balance between spicy and sweet. I love the fact that no electric mixer is required—just two large bowls and a spatula—but beware, the “mascarpone swirl” will quickly dissolve into a sloppy mascarpone mess if the cheese isn’t thawed to room temperature. Not a problem for me—they tasted just as well—but they weren’t pretty.

The through-line here, in terms of “cook happy,” is … Eat whatever the hell you want for breakfast! That’s how most of this was consumed. That, and go ahead and be the person who drops off homemade treats to friends and leaves random baked goods in the break room. It’s fun to be that person. Oh—and cheese. Cheese, may I count the ways I love thee …

Without further ado, the recipes. Have a good week.

Ginger

Poached Pears
Adapted from Back to the Basics

Ingredients
Three firm, slightly under-ripe pears
2 lemons
4 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup walnut halves, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup apple cider, plus 3 tablespoons
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

Instructions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Halve the pears and remove the seeds with a knife or spoon, or better yet, a melon baller. Place in a large baking dish. Microwave lemons for 10 seconds, juice them, and immediately pour liquid over the pears.

In a medium-sized bowl, crumble the goat cheese by scoring it with a sharp knife. Chop and add the walnuts, then the cranberries. Use your hands to bring the mixture together. Divide the mixture evenly among the pears.

In the same bowl, mix the apple cider with the brown sugar. Pour the mixture over the fruit.

Bake until tender, about 30 minutes.

Mascarpone Gingerbread Bars
Adapted from The Joys of Baking

Ingredients for gingerbread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large eggs

Ingredients for mascarpone swirl
1 large egg, room temperature
8 oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Generously butter a 9-inch square baking dish.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and molasses, then whisk in the eggs.
  • Fold the wet buttery mixture into the flour mixture.
  • In another medium bowl, whisk the other egg, adding the mascarpone, sugar, and vanilla.
  • Alternately scoop the two batters into a checkerboard pattern; then use a butter knife to swirl them together. Bank until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean; 30 to 40 minutes.


Two Bowl Cornbread for Super Bowl (Super Soul?) Sunday

Give me an excuse to imbibe large quantities of dairy and fried finger food and I’ll take take it! Honestly I can’t remember the last time I watched the Super Bowl, much less attended a Super Bowl party, but I do know that one alternative to a sit down with Brene Brown or the dalai lama or John Travolta or whatever the hell Oprah does on Super SOUL Sunday is to grab hold of a wooden spoon and stir some wet ingredients — eggs, milk, melted butter — into dry.

Working a simple, humble dough like that does wonders for my soul. I can, with some authority, declare that wielding that spoon in the sweet spot between undermixed and ever-so-lightly scooped together trumps all the insight I might glean from a talk therapy session. Making cornbread in the simple, unfrivolous way that cornbread begs to be made, is what some mental health professionals might call a “somatic” practice — that is, of the body, lifegiving in both a literal and figurative sense, not unlike rigorous exercise.

Ina Garten’s jalapeno cheddar version is unpretentious in that it only requires two bowls, but it is also thoughtful in its inclusion of 4 Tablespoons (or 1/4 cup) of granulated sugar and an extra 20 minutes of wait time while all the flavors — including freshly minced scallions and jalapeno — mingle before you spread into the baking dish.

If you are jalapeno-shy, like me, you can substitute extra scallions for the hot pepper. The result, dear reader, is a moist, cheesy delight with a hint of a… kick.

Reading Goalz 2.0

Dear Reader,

I ended up reading 32 books in 2020, having initially set the goal of #52booksin52weeks and then dialing it down to #40book2020.

I do not have children and the milestones that accompany them, so this project afforded me, in my 34th year around the sun, with a unique way to mark time during an incredibly slow-moving and stressful year for the entire planet.

In June I posted about my reading goals and dropped a list of titles I had explored thus far. Here are the rest of them and a few further reflections on what it meant for me to undertake this endeavor.

Quit Like A Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker

Whitaker is the founder of Tempest, a modern, women-focused online recovery program. Her book outlines concrete tools for quitting drinking and explores the deceptive ways in which the alcohol industry targets female consumers. Overall it frames sobriety as an empowering choice in line with Feminist values.

The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation

I read much of this sacred Hindu text over the course of a long night of insomnia last summer. I recall hyper-focusing on the pre-battle dialogue between prince Arjuna and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu as I fought my own interior battle with anxious thoughts. The spiritual wisdom of The Gita is stated with the gentle clarity of a blue sky… so much to revisit and absorb… That’s the rub with ambitious reading goals. This year, I look forward to reading and re-reading that is slow and deep.

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

Baldwin writes about race in America in a way that is depressingly prescient. I prefer his writing over some of the newer anti-racist literature that is trending right now. His is such a compassionate, nuanced voice while remaining truthful and unaccommodating to White fear.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

A friend lent me this book after I expressed how much comfort I was taking lying under large, broad-leafed trees during COVID. This is a rich, layered novel worthy of multiple reads — it interweaves nine narratives, all with trees at their center, and then builds toward Drama, reading almost like a thriller toward the end.

The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry & Writing by Richard Hugo

One of the most salient pieces of information I took away from Triggering Town was that all writers, poets, pushers of paper and pen, artists, creatives, have “obsessions” or certain topics, themes that they return to over and over and that’s OK. Hugo’s suggestion is to lean into these — that’s where the gold lies.

Good Poems: Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor

This is such a great book! It contains a wide range of contemporary and older poets loosely categorized under themes ranging from “Lovers” to “Day’s Work.”

A Spring Within Us by Richard Rohr

This book reads much like the daily emails Rohr sends from the Center for Action and Contemplation, which he founded in 1987. Each week has a theme, ranging from an introduction to the Enneagram to a series of reflections on “Transforming Suffering.” Each week ends with some kind of meditative or contemplative practice. Rohr is a Franciscan priest and prolific author; when I get annoyed/frustrated with the Christian establishment his writings renew my faith.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Minds by Jen Wilkin, The Essential Jesus, and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron are each part of a year of spiritual seeking.

The first provides practical practical tips for reading the Bible that you might expect from an exacting high school English teacher. I agree with Wilkin that many devotionals can have a “Xanax” effect in telling the reader what she wants to hear and so I appreciate the concrete tips she offers for the woman who longs to read the Bible for her own damn self. The Essential Jesus is the Gospel of Luke, and When Things Fall Apart is rooted in the Buddhist tradition, one that I could read ten or twenty times and still gain something new. It begins with a reflection on fear, including the bravery it takes to truly live in the present moment — “being present” is a truly vulnerable, groundless place to be, according to Chodron, and yet that is how we are called to live.

The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith

I found The Well-Gardened Mind through this article in The New Yorker. My husband has thrown himself into gardening since we moved to St. Louis in 2015 and though he has a very calm aura I’ve always sensed that tending to his vegetable garden offered him a profound and much-needed release. I bought the book for him and subsequently read it myself, curious about the psychological connection between gardeners and their plots. The author is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist married to a landscape architect… you can imagine where that takes her.

The Book of Genesis

Reading Women of the Word and The Essential Jesus sparked a hunger in me to undertake a different reading project altogether, that of making my way through The Good Book. The Book of Genesis, like The Gita, is written in a concise, assertive voice, inviting slow, patient reading.

The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner

A wise friend of mine once told me that there’s a direct relationship between feelings of personal powerlessness and the feeling of anger; for this and other reasons I have struggled against losing my temper during the season of COVID. This is another book intended to be ingested slowly. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on mothers and daughters, the description of “over-” and “under-” functioners in romantic relationships, and the hopeful outlook of effectively channeling anger versus somehow eradicating it.

We Are The Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen

We Are The Luckiest is another sobriety memoir or “quit lit” as the chicks say. The author used to co-host the Home podcast with the aforementioned Holly Whitaker and leads her own women’s online recovery program. One detail from this book that stands out to me is the reverence with which she speaks of paying her bills on time, making her bed, doing the mundane deal. Only a sober person who has worked hard for their recovery can understand this level of appreciation for the ordinary.

A Reflection & Recipe about Simplicity


Dear Readers,

Merry, merry Xmas, and/or Happy Holidays!  

Today I felt a pull to post, which came as a pleasant surprise. I have resisted writing in all its forms since submitting my poetry final last Saturday – and to be honest, I had been coasting in that class for quite a while, using poems drafted and revised earlier this fall.

So what landed me at my desk (er, couch + lap desk) today? Nothing more, nothing less than a festive potato recipe that feels fitting to share, given the prominent place of potatoes on most holiday tables, and the challenge inherent in so-called “food writing” of making some added meaning out of cooking instructions.

What I love about potatoes is their sense of possibility… they can serve as a blank canvas for different cooking techniques and flavors. The red potatoes in this dish take on a rich crispness after sizzling in Ghee and then steaming alongside rings of yellow onion. Salt and pepper plus fresh herbs such as thyme, sage, rosemary (or all three) finished off with chunks of fresh parsley round out the flavor palate.

It’s darn simple and darn good, kind of how I’m feeling about life these days – not that it’s all good, but that simplicity is the key to the goodness. I’ve done quite a bit of pruning and shedding since last Xmas – I am making less money, I have a different, arguably less impressive professional title, for example – and yet, I have, and I am enough. Yep, enough. I’ve been inspired by some of my friends to pick a word for 2021 and that’s my word: “enough.”

I don’t need to hide behind incessant productivity or busyness, behind a Xmas card perfect family unit, a chiseled physique or any of the other myriad ways many of us avoid getting comfortable with who we are and that we are inherently worthy. I am, quite simply, enough.

With that, I leave you with this sublimely simple potato recipe that leaves me satiated every time.

Red Potatoes with Clarified Butter, Onions, and Rosemary
Adapted from Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients

12 small red potatoes or 6 larger ones
1/3 cup Ghee*
1 tablespoon fresh herb of your choice (or 1 teaspoon dried herb)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 medium onion, sliced into thin-ish rings
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Instructions

Cut small potatoes in half or larger ones in quarters.
Chop your herbs, measure out the salt and pepper and place in a small bowl.
Chop parsley, and place in a separate container.
Peel and slice the onion.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat until very hot. Add Ghee, swirl to coat the pan, and let it warm up. Place potatoes white side down on skillet so that they sizzle in the butter.
Sprinkle your bowl of herbs, salt, and pepper over the potatoes.
Cover the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and let everything cook for approximately 10 min.
Remove cover and flip each potato over with tongs, add onion, and cook for another 30 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown and nicely cooked through and onions are caramelized.
Sprinkle the finished product with chopped parsley!

*If you don’t have Ghee, you can make your own clarified butter by melting a stick of unsalted butter in a sauce pan over low heat (just let the entire stick sit there and slowly melt…) then skim the solid fats off the surface with a knife. Warning: it’s a bit of a painstaking process!

Book Review: An Honest Hunger

An Honest Hunger

An Honest Hunger, a new volume of poems written by poet and journalist Robert Lowes, is both a deeply satisfying and accessible read. Lowes writes in a wry, understated voice, deftly touching on a variety of existential matters including God, death, and the transcendent power of nature in a way that feels refreshingly light.

Some of my favorite poems, like “Falling Asleep” and “The Man with the Fresh Haircut,” playfully dramatize mundane aspects of daily life, taking the reader on a fun ride while inviting them to look at the world a little more closely. Others, such as “A Passion for Everyone,” and “My Daughter’s Breakfast,” are confidently straightforward in their commentary on big and expansive topics.

An Honest Hunger is a quick read that will have you coming back to reread and savor, and Lowes comes through as an experienced, seasoned writer at play with his own craft. His poetic playground draws us into a war between Jesus and a black hole, meditations on the sun, mousetraps, and hot summer tomato gardens, onto the face of a lost boy on a milk carton, and much, much more.

I highly recommend, and look forward to the next outpouring.

Easy Recipe for Baking Any White Fish

Chef Caroline

Wait… what’s that about fish? Just getting your attention real quick with a picture of my niece Caroline playing in her miniature kitchen 🙂

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m trying my hand at the pescatarian life. This recipe for baked salmon never fails, but I tend to fall in a major rut with it… fish at my house means salmon all the time, baked with lemon and butter and dill. I did attempt to liven things up this week with a recipe for roasted salmon with miso rice and ginger scallion vinaigrette, but by the time dinner rolled around I needed something quick and easy and chucked my plans for the no-fail mainstay.

That’s OK, because I have landed on another very simple way to cook white fish — of any kind. The recipe that follows is a dumbed-down, cheaper version of Ina Garten’s mustard-roasted fish, and it’s based on what I had in my fridge and a big filet of fresh snapper that my husband picked up at the store yesterday.

Easy Baked White Fish

Ingredients

  • Any kind of white fish, cut into one big piece or smaller filets
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 small onion, diced (or better yet, minced)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place fish in a baking dish, pat dry, and season generously with salt and pepper.
  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients + 1 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
  • Pour the sauce over the fish!
  • Bake, uncovered, between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on how your fish is cut. Will be nice and flaky when done.

Heave a beautiful evening.

Ginger

Week’s Worth of Summer Suppers

Summer Suppers Pic

Shelter in place has its challenges, but I’ve got it pretty good. Finding the silver lining: I’ve been eating a lot healthier because… I’ve been cooking a lot more! Go figure.

How has the pandemic shifted things for you?

Here is what I’m eating for dinner this week:

(It’s not entirely pescatarian, contrary to a goal I shared in a recent post.)

Here’s everything you need:

Pantry Items

  • Long grain rice (1 1/2 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Low-sodium soy sauce
  • White vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Onions (1 small white, 1/2 small red)
  • Fresh garlic
  • Black beans
  • Vegetable oil or Ghee
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Dijon mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Worcestershire sauce

Shopping List

  • Frozen salmon fillets
  • Chicken thighs (bone in preferably)
  • Lots of eggs
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Lots of kale
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 large tomato
  • Cilantro
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 2 limes
  • Scallions (¼ cup)
  • Head of cabbage
  • Fresh ginger
  • Lemons
  • Flour tortillas
  • Miso

Enjoy! Hope you find some time between meals to sit under a tree.

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