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.

italy4.jpg

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.

 

An evening at Alden & Harlow

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.

Burrata and salt roasted beets – with peperoncino honey, pine nut granola & garlic crostino

Burrata and salt roasted beets – with peperoncino honey, pine nut granola & garlic crostino

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.

The atrium area, separate from the main dining room.

The atrium area, separate from the main dining room.

In sum:

  • 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.

Book & brunch

You know someone is a close friend when for no reason whatsoever, they give you a little gift.

I had brunch with one such good friend this morning, and she brought with her one such little gift. A book is generally a no-brainer present for me. And a book about food and/or cooking is as close to a sure thing as you can get. If France is somehow involved, all the better. So naturally Hoff knocked it out of the park. She's the best.

I've actually not delved too deeply into the world of sauce-concocting, so I think Hoff has inspired me to enter a new food phase. That of elegant sauces.

Food minimalism

When I was little I had a pin collection. I know. But I had a friend with a 3-leaf clover collection, and another with a rock collection. It was the '80s – we had to be self-reliant when it came to entertainment, unlike today's iPad infants.

One of my pins said "I want it all." And while this may still be true in some respects, I've actually become more of a minimalist over the years. Not the stark, cold minimalism epitomized by those urban dwellings featured in architecture magazines. But just, sloughing off the unnecessary things. Simplifying.

I'm that way with decor (clean lines please, and minimal clutter), clothing (I don't need, nor do I want, hundreds of pairs of shoes), and lately, food.

Picnic food is about as simple as it gets.

Picnic food is about as simple as it gets.

Food is the ultimate arena in which to embrace minimalism, if you ask me. Our society promotes the opposite view – one in which food is packed with "value added" nutrients, preservatives, and any number of other embellishments. More is more. That is, more ingredients equals more money for food manufacturers.

Whereas food minimalism means choosing foods that aren't highly refined or processed. Minimizing quantity and maximizing quality. The more minimal, the greater the health value, I'm betting. Even when I use recipes I prefer simple recipes – partly out of necessity (small kitchen), but mostly because I enjoy super simple, clean foods.

I think food minimalism could extend to eating patterns as well. We tend to favor grazing here in the US, eating all day long, whereas in Europe it's customary to have set meal times. I think food minimalism could entail minimizing the number of eating opportunities in order to maximize enjoyment of each meal.

Paris Street Food

The quality of what I ate in Paris may have been excellent, but my eating habits themselves were not. We ate all day – in the name of research of course – and often ate on the go. And while we had some amazing dinners that went long into the night, as leisurely as you could have ever imagined, the days were about grab-and-go food. Here's a sample of Parisian "fast food."

Meat. Veggies. Bread. Done.

Meat. Veggies. Bread. Done.

Word on the street was that this was the man to see. Here, he's making me an egg, cheese & mushroom crepe.

Word on the street was that this was the man to see. Here, he's making me an egg, cheese & mushroom crepe.

And lastly, some mesmerizing chicken.