But she will still track down the family grits casserole recipe & make it for a party.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
As for cooking, the plan is stuffed eggplant with lamb & pine nuts.
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).
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:
- Roasted vegetables – Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, squash & sweet potato are favorites
- Rice – For something more substantial
- Hard-boiled eggs – Easy protein
- Chicken thighs – Either in the slow cooker or baked
- Sardines or anchovies – Lazy option
- Cashews – Because Americans feel that snacks are imperative
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
I've been to Alden & Harlow, in Harvard Square, five times recently. Friends keep saying, "I've never been – let's go!" And because it's that good, I oblige. It's not head-bobbing good, which is when the food I'm tasting is so fantastic that no words can suffice, and I can only nod my head as if to say, "Yes. This. Yes." But Alden & Harlow serves some great food, and it's consistently great. I was there last night with a friend, enjoying said food on a rainy evening.
The restaurant itself has a warm vibe (open kitchen, inviting bar), but there's a "ps" dining section which I'll try to avoid in the future. It feels oddly quiet & FOMO-inducing. (That's "fear of missing out," folks. But you knew that.) The couple seated next to me sat down & promptly jumped ship, heading to the other side of the restaurant.
On to the food: It's a "small plates" place, so my friend and I ordered four dishes. We were also given a pickled green bean starter, so technically we had five.
- Heirloom eggs, pickled fiddleheads, boquerones
- Striped bass crudo with gooseberries, olive oil croutons & calabrian chili
- Burrata & salt roasted beets (pictured above)
- Grilled lamb sirloin, with a cocoa rub, grilled carrot mash & spring green puree
Everything was good, though it wasn't my favorite meal there. I really wanted the pork belly with strawberries & grits, which they were out of, but what we had was tasty – my favorite being the eggs & fiddleheads, the beets a close second. The chef, Michael Scelfo, sources locally when possible and everything has a good feel to it, if that makes sense. You feel like you're eating good, thoughtful food, and that a lot of care went into it on its journey to your table. (Yes, I just talked used the phrase "on its journey to your table." This is the culture we live in. Embrace it.)
Last but not least, Alden & Harlow's bar is amazing. The bar manager, Seth, concocts some interesting things that you'd never think were drinkable. Like the Terremoto, which has mezcal (a new favorite of mine as of late), celery-thyme shrub (didn't even ask), green chartreuse (sounds like a comic book villain but I like it), and lime. I noticed last night that this drink seems to have been replaced with another mezcal-based drink called The Green Storm (perhaps Green Chartreuse's nemesis), which was also tasty. I don't usually gravitate toward cocktails, as I tend to prefer wine or whiskey. But Alden & Harlow is definitely a place to mix it up. No pun intended.
- Thoughtful, unfussy, consistently great food. Awaiting that head-bob experience. Think the pork belly & grits will get me there.
- Ask to be seated in the main restaurant. Completely different vibe.
- Cocktails. YES. I recognized the bar manager, Seth, from when he used to work at Eastern Standard. He gets consistently rave reviews about his drinks at A&H.
- If you want the secret burger, go early. It was gone when I got there at 7pm.
- Wash your hands. Their soap smells amazing.