Happy Halloween & some fun food links

Halloween! Candy. That's about all that needs to be said about this holiday. I don't know why the snack-size candy bars taste better than the full size, but I theorize it has something to do with the ridges on the bottom.

When I wasn't thinking about costume ideas this week, I was rounding up some fun links. Enjoy!

  1. Grab some citrus & make a cake. This is my new favorite recipe – feel free to use something besides clementines. I used mandarin oranges & lemons.
  2. It's Halloween! Ever wonder which candy is healthier? No? Well here's a series of candy showdowns anyway.
  3. And if I were throwing a Halloween party these Mounds Bar Truffles would definitely be on the menu.
  4. Sometimes I think about the kitchen I'd like to have. These 5 design tips are a good reminder that you don't need a ton of money or space. Sometimes the little things can make a big difference.
  5. Oh, and there's a new Portlandia cookbook.
  6. Last but not least, this list of recipes that will remind you of the '90s is pretty great.

Food ceremony & ugly breakfast

When I was little, it was a special treat if my mom, instead of pouring my milk into my cereal, instead put it in a small creamer pitcher for me to pour in myself. This happened infrequently. But when it did, I relished it as one might tea with the Queen.

And in most of Haruki Murakami's novels, his main characters often have very meticulous food rituals, taking great care in the preparation of their food. Perhaps this is reflective of Japanese culture in general, but his characters lavish an exquisite amount of attention – while simultaneously exhibiting admirable restraint – on food.

Such ceremony has a place in the food world, but my mealtime & cooking rituals as an adult are woefully lacking. I do make attempts. No eating meals in my bedroom. I try to use nice dinnerware (I love Apilco, personally). I once enforced a strict no-technology-while-eating rule, but that's fallen by the wayside as of late. I'd like to be better about observing proper mealtimes versus snacking all day, and I'm hoping to host more dinners as cooking & eating with others is hands-down one of my favorite things ever. Simple and deeply satisfying. Now, group dinners will entail a fair amount of ceremony – setting the table, arranging courses... and of course, presentation matters.

But when it's just me, I care less about how my food looks – for better or for worse. We do eat with our eyes, after all. But sometimes my meals look like a mess. Like this morning's breakfast of eggs over easy, leftover braised cabbage & carrots, and arugula. It wasn't refined. But it was good.

Vacation day in the kitchen

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I made a last-minute decision to take the day off from work, fully intending to sleep late* & work on some projects.

What actually happened: I woke up at 7:30am and cooked & baked all day. Grey days trigger my "stay indoors and make good smells come from the kitchen" response. So comfort food it was. Chicken thighs in the slow cooker with ginger, onions & garlic; braised cabbage with carrots; and last but certainly not least, the pièce de résistance, chocolate chip cookies.

*Late for me = anything after 8am

Sunday food

The acorn squash is in the oven right now. To be eventually stuffed with some sort of rice & ground meat mixture.

The strawberries were a concession to today's humidity & warm temperature.

I'm simultaneously accepting and rejecting fall. At least according to my food purchases.

Salami & Italian picnics

Last weekend, low on groceries & forced to throw together something for lunch, this is what happened.

A few years ago when I was studying nutrition in Florence – the program was called "Italian Cuisine & the Mediterranean Diet" – we ate so much prosciutto and salami that I swore it off upon returning to Boston. Now if/when I buy it I'm instantly reminded of Italy. I wouldn't venture to call this an Italian lunch, but it made me reminisce about my time there.

One of the trip highlights was a group picnic, whereby everyone was given a piece of paper with the name of a food on it (in Italian) and we were sent off to market to fetch our respective items. Like a bunch of remarkably obedient children. I was tasked with finding caciotta, an Italian cheese. Picnic-style meals were common during this trip. Cured meat, cheese, a few olives, maybe some greens, and fruit for dessert. It was simple and delicious.

Here was one of our meals in Italy.

And another.

We were based in Florence but traveled around a bit, eventually winding down the coast to a seaside town called Acciaroli, where we had fried calamari and sardines.

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Ah, the power of food. It's nutrients & vitamins and all that stuff that makes our bodies run, but it's also stories. Which are every bit as, if not more, important. Some more Italy photos below (click on the photos to scroll through) – enjoy!

Fast food Cambridge-style

On the spectrum of dinner options, I live on the extremes. I make something at home myself or I eat out. I seldom dabble in the middle ground of fast food or takeout.

But every once in a while, when the Earth's gravitational pull is just right, it happens.

After work today I popped into a place I'd never tried and walked out with something called The Green Goddess. There was a lot of green. And a lot of grain. Kale, avocado, brown rice, garlic, sprouted grains & some kind of gingery miso sauce.

It was tasty. It was really green. It comes with a side of "You virtuous eater, you!" even though I think good/bad food labels are, well, bad. But two thumbs up for tons of vegetables in my "fast" food. And for it costing $6.

Secret burger & a midnight snack

I'd never had a "secret burger."

Until tonight. At Alden & Harlow, my favorite Harvard Square spot as of late, I tried not just any secret burger but the "SECRET secret burger." That's right. Two levels in. Tonight's was called The California. They don't tell you what's on it; you just order it, eat it, and ask questions later.

It was delicious. Turns out it had napa cabbage, jalapeno & bacon. I have no photographic evidence because I've been veering away from photographing my food in restaurants. I'm trying to find the happy medium between getting great shots to capture a beautiful meal, but also be a civilized person who shows respect to my dining companion. Pulling out a phone can break the flow of conversation, and meals are as much about the company (if not more?) than they are about the food. So, I figure it's worth it to lose a shot and stay in the moment, keeping my technology tucked away in my purse.

Post-burger I went to see a friend's comedy podcast, and after a lovely walk home I decided why go straight to bed when I can eat Croatian cookies? That's right.  A lovely & dear friend brought me cookies from a tiny bakery in Croatia. Lavender shortbread & cardamom biscotti. And that was my midnight snack.

Accidental Southern Night

My friend & I recently visited Belly Wine Bar, in Cambridge, for the first time. Upon arriving, a seemingly authoritative person asked, "Are you here for the soggy po-boys?"

Us: No, we just came to eat food & drink wine.

Him: Oh, okay, well tonight's a special kind of night. We have the outdoor bar set up and a special menu.

Me: And what's the deal with the soggy po-boys?

Him: OH! The Soggy Po-Boys are a great band, I love having them play here when I can. They do New Orleans music. The singer's voice is amazing. They're really, really great.

Me: Are they actually from New Orleans? That's where I'm from.

Him: No, they're from New Hampshire.

And thus ended our conversation with the very kind proprietor of the establishment, and thus began our lovely evening under strings of white lights, on a cool evening, with wine & Southern tunes (The Soggy Po-Boys were fantastic). The food we had was great, too – baked ricotta with honey and grilled bread. On our way home that evening my friend & I agreed we're definitely returning even when Belly Wine Bar isn't in Southern mode.

Sundays are for cooking & reading

And whatever else strikes your fancy. I try to squeeze a lot into Saturday so that Sunday's a nice blank slate. I've spent the past week settling into my new neighborhood, which I quite like, and recalibrating my routines. But my Sundays remain the same: I try to keep them open for general relaxation. Which today has entailed going for a run, throwing together a lazy breakfast – egg & arugula sandwich – and will also include doing some reading before meeting up with a friend this evening.

Cherrybombe is my new favorite magazine. It celebrates food & women and is excellently designed.

Cherrybombe is my new favorite magazine. It celebrates food & women and is excellently designed.

As for cooking, the plan is stuffed eggplant with lamb & pine nuts.

Friday fun: New cookbook

I've heard the name Yotam Ottolenghi mentioned a few times recently, and after trips to both Oleana and Sarma – restaurants with Mediterranean flavors, and a Turkish influence in particular  – I was inspired to buy one of his cookbooks and make some Mediterranean fare myself.

I love these sorts of flavors, and the simplicity of using high-quality ingredients but combining & seasoning them in ways unfamiliar to me. I've barely cracked it open, but already on my list: Stuffed eggplant with lamb & pine nuts, roasted chicken with clementines & arak, chicken with caramelized onion & cardamom rice, turkey & zucchini burgers with green onion & cumin, slow-cooked veal with prunes & leek, and maqluba (a massive savory cake that you make in one pot and then flip upside down).

And shakshuka.

And shakshuka.


We've got flame

Enough was enough. I met up with a friend tonight at Green Street Grill, and on the way home made an impulse stop at Whole Foods. Vegetables would be purchased. Vegetables would be roasted. The sandwiches must stop.

I love cooking & I miss it. And buying lunch at work was getting ridiculous – $10 for lackluster salad or mediocre Indian food? It was time to get back to business. My staples for work meals:

  1. Roasted vegetables – Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, squash & sweet potato are favorites
  2. Rice – For something more substantial
  3. Hard-boiled eggs – Easy protein
  4. Chicken thighs – Either in the slow cooker or baked
  5. Sardines or anchovies – Lazy option
  6. Cashews – Because Americans feel that snacks are imperative
  7. Dark chocolate – Because dessert

Heading into the fall I plan to do more recipe-based cooking to vary things up, but the above options are great when pressed for time.

The Moving Diet

When you pack all of your cookware for a move, and then have to unpack it & learn your way around the kitchen at your new place, your meals take a hit. I haven't cooked in a while.

Instead, I've been eating pb&j sandwiches. Or rather, almond butter & jelly sandwiches. I don't think I've ever eaten so many in one week. It's getting a little out of hand.

I did just buy a new cookbook yesterday, though. So armed with that, plus having moved to a place with an actual dining room table (meaning I can now cook for people!), I'm prepared to get back in the kitchen soon.

Behold, the fig

I'd never had a dried fig until this summer. In Paris all the open-air markets had them, and as we ate lots of meals on the run, figs became a favorite dessert. Though "natural," they're very sweet. One should probably be the limit. One is seldom my limit.

Cacao tea in Brooklyn

I spent the weekend visiting Brooklyn Sis – in, you guessed it, Brooklyn. Besides eating copious amounts of leftover birthday cake, we tried Dover restaurant, went for a run through the various 'hoods, and went to an evening vegetarian picnic.

And. I learned about something called cacao tea. I'm predicting this will be a trend in six months' time. The scoop:

  • Cacao tea is basically a bag of cacao bean husks. The smell alone is lovely.
  • Put some in a mesh strainer, pour boiling water over it & let steep for a few minutes.
  • The result? It actually does taste like chocolate. Not as strong or creamy as hot chocolate, but mildly chocolatey. It's chocolate-flavored water. And it's actually kind of pleasing.

With coconut water having blown up, I can see cacao bean-infused beverages being next.