And… I’m back. Sort of.
I’m not sure what happened over the pat six months, but I stopped blogging. Yes, in that time I was very busy living- running races, travelling, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and hosting my family for Christmas. But to be honest, I think my hiatus was fueled more by the fact that my feelings about cooking and eating have changed a lot.
as seen in Harvard Square
My life was very different when I started writing this blog almost five years ago. Since then, I’ve switched jobs, bought a house, and taken up running. Food and cooking are still important, but I increasingly find that my life has gotten broader in ways that didn’t seem to fit into the confines of a self-proclaimed “food blog.” I considered just giving it up, but I missed the writing, and the community aspect of it. I’m also gearing up for a triathlon this summer, and would like a space to keep myself accountable, and to write about my training.
Atop Ryan Summit, Joshua Tree National Park last month
So, I’ve decided to return, but to focus on whatever I’m fancying at the moment, be it food, or running, travel, or simply writing for the sake of writing. I hope you’ll check in on occasion, and comment on the recipes, give me advice on how to get faster, or just laugh at my bad jokes. It’s good to be back!
For years you’ve been making s’mores: graham cracker, marshmallow, Hershey bar, right?
Well, your life is about to change.
You see that? What’s wrong with this picture? There’s no Hershey bar, is there? That’s right.
I actually hate Hershey bars. I know, it’s practically unpatriotic to say that, but it’s true. They taste waxy and fake to me, probably because Hershey no longer makes real chocolate.
Reese’s peanut butter cups on the other hand? Pass them over. Yes, I know they’re just as fake as a Hershey bar, but that salty/sweet combination reaches something in my soul. I love the almost crumbly texture of the peanut butter, and the way you can peel the chocolate off the sides like the skin from a banana. I’m not alone: last year, Reese’s topped Hershey’s on the list of most popular candy bars.
Yet, despite this, it had never occurred to me to put my favorite candy into a s’mores. And then a friend suggested it at a barbecue last spring. The result was so good I couldn’t keep it to myself.
It also led to some experimenting with Nutella and Biscoff spread. Both were very good. But the Reese’s was the best. You’re welcome.
Got another idea on how to remake a s’mores? Let me know.
Ah, Charleston… we meet again.
I spent dusk of the summer solstice kayaking in pursuit of dolphins with my brother. The next morning we were up at dawn, stand up paddle board surfing at the Isle of Palms.
At times, it felt like I was eating my way through the city: shrimp and grits at Hanks, a memorable order of fried green tomatoes topped with crab at Fleet Landing, and some wonderful savory scones from Wild Flour.
Yet my favorite times weren’t our nights on the town, but rather evenings in: sipping gin and tonics with my GRAND-mother on her back patio, making key lime pie with my littlest (now not so little) sister, and hosting a mess of cousins for a make your own taco night that featured mahi mahi one of them caught earlier that week (fishing runs in the family).
One day, my littlest sister, Boo, inquired about boiled peanuts. If you’ve never had a boiled peanut, you’re missing out. Yes, they’re peanuts, but rather than the crunchy treat most are used to, boiled peanuts are soft and salty, and half the fun is peeling the little guys open to get to the nugget of meat inside. You can’t help but run into them in the south: at the grocery store, in gas stations and roadside stands. It seems that everyone below the Mason-Dixon line must love them some boiled peanuts.
Anyway, Boo wanted to make her own boiled peanuts. “I don’t think it’s that tough,” I told her. “I think the hardest part would be finding raw peanuts.” Low and behold, the next day we were in the produce section of the Piggly Wiggly when we ran into a bin of them. Boo’s face lit up, and we brought a pound or so home.
Hot boiled peanuts
1 lb raw (green) peanuts
4 cups water
1/4 cup salt
optional: 1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes, Old Bay or Tabasco sauce
Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer two to three hours, or until the peanut meat is soft and mushy. Drain and serve. Can be stored a few days in the fridge.
Summer is finally here. It was touch and go there for a while with a cool May and a wet early June. I was starting to think the warm weather would never get here.
But now the humidity and heat are upon us and I couldn’t be more glad. Bring on the iced coffee, the gin and tonics, the grilled fish, and obligatory s’mores, the sunscreen, tan lines, flip flops and sunglasses.
I don’t cook much in the summer. Well, at least not inside. Too hot, and generally I’m too social in the summer to hang around the kitchen. I want to be outside as much as possible: at the beach, in my kayak, on vacation. When I do prepare a meal at home it’s usually something pulled together quickly, a salad or a small smorgasbord of cheese, crackers and other tidbits found in the fridge. Generally, that line-up also includes a pickle or two.
Pickles are one of my favorite things to much on when the weather gets hot. And I don’t just mean kosher baby dills. No ma’m. I’ll demolish jars of pickled okra, watermelon rind, and banana peppers. Dilly beans are fair game, and quick pickled red onions make guest appearances. Until recently, giardiniera was a rare treat, saved for the occasional visit to Eastern Standard, which serves small bowls of the stuff as an amuse bouche of sorts. I always end up eating the whole thing and then unabashedly asking for seconds like some kind of bourgeois Oliver Twist. Hence I was thrilled when a friend gave me a copy of the America’s Test Kitchen DIY book, which contains a recipe for (among several other good-looking recipes) giardiniera.
If you’ve never had giardiniera, think of it as a pickle crudite, a mixture of cauliflower, carrots, onions, and celery with a hint of garlic and herbs. Better for you than potato chips, the vegetables pack that same crunch and salt blast that makes snacking so satisfying. While canning and processing pickles can be a chore, these were surprisingly easy to make and have kept excellently in the back of my fridge for months (though the ATK book includes directions on how to process jars for long-term storage). I followed the directions below until it came time to put the veggies into the jars- then I got creative and added sprigs of thyme to one jar, juniper berries to another, and red pepper flakes to yet another. You should feel free to do the same.
When it comes to eating, these are great on their own, but I also use them to dress up salads, tacos, and sandwiches. And if you don’t think you can eat all these pickles yourself, the jars make great hostess gifts for summer gatherings. Much better than a six-pack of Bud Lite anyway.
(adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)
Boston gets called a lot of things, but friendly generally isn’t one of them. Ours is not a city of brotherly love, and outsiders frequently complain about the aloofness of my brethren. Patriots’ Day is the day that proves them all wrong.
A local holiday that commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War, Patriots’ Day is the day that Boston comes out to celebrate. It’s school vacation week and a state holiday. Spring is in the air. Men dressed in period costumes march to Lexington to reenact battles (and Paul Revere’s famous ride). The Red Sox play at home. Thousands of runners from across the globe descend on the city for the Boston Marathon. And thousands upon thousands come out to cheer them on. I tell people all the time that Patriots’ Day is my favorite day. It’s a day that this small and sometimes parochial city becomes truly world-class.
Runners will tell you that Boston is the marathon that you don’t want to wear headphones for. Spectators line the course from Hopkinton to Back Bay. Families sit on front lawns and watch the runners go by. Children offer oranges. The women of Wellesley College offer kisses. It seems like all of Boston is packed into the last half mile, cheering wildly as the runners take a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston for the homestretch. Five years ago I moved into an apartment just blocks from the finish line, and my sister and I started a tradition of heading there each Marathon Monday to cheer. We’d get there early to get a good spot, and yell ourselves hoarse, shouting from the moment the wheelchair athletes passed by until the number of runners slowed to a trickle.
Boston loves its marathon. In a city where neighborhood divisions run deep and racial tensions still linger, the marathon is something that everyone can get behind. As a runner, people often assume I’m training for the race when they see me out. Last year, an old man in South Boston wished me luck in the marathon as I ran along Carson Beach. A few weeks ago, I was stopped by an African-American woman in Jamaica Plain who wanted to know if I was training for the marathon. In the days leading up to the race the elite runners arrive in town and often head out on the same paths I use for my training. Imagine going to shoot hoops at your local park and having Paul Pierce show up. It’s that thrilling.
This year, I decided that rather than be a spectator, I’d get involved in the race. I signed up to volunteer, and recruited 50 friends, mostly from my running group, to man a hydration station at mile 18, in the midst of one of the marathon’s most grueling stretches. Yesterday, we made our way to Newton where we set up tables and poured enough water and Gatorade to quench the thirst of 27,000 runners. The experience was both inspiring and humbling. Runners old, and young, from Japan to Brazil to England to Kenya. People who looked like they were having the best race of their lives, and people who looked like they’d be happy to simply finish. What surprised me most was how grateful they were to us, shouting their thanks as they took the cups from our hands.
We were nearly finished cleaning up when we got word of the explosions. Many of us were planning to head to the finish line. Instead, we gathered at a friend’s apartment, watched the President on TV, let our loved ones know were were OK, and scrolled social media for updates. And just as with every other Marathon Monday, I was proud of my city. I was proud of the people who rushed towards the scene to help those injured. I was proud of residents opening their homes to stranded runners. I was proud of the people who offered money, clothes, rides, anything they could.
There’s no doubt that next year’s Boston Marathon will be the biggest race in its history. In the coming weeks, we will all find ways to cope, contribute, and honor those lost. For me, it will start with the simple act of lacing up my shoes and going for a run.
March seemed to come like a lamb and go like a lion. Four days sunning myself in Miami ruined me for winter: I came back whining about the cold, and may have skipped a few early-morning workouts as a result. But man, even after the crocuses sprung there was snow and sub-20 degree mornings. Enough.
I took a little running break after my half-marathon in Miami. I still climbed stairs and ran hills and did bootcamp, but there were no runs over four miles. I’d also decided that after I was finished with the races I’d give juicing a whirl, so I did.
It seems I’ve been on a roll with proving my younger self wrong. Never did I ever think I’d take up running, biking, or fishing. I never dreamed I’d give up booze for three months. And I certainly never thought I’d go five days without meat, or bread or … solid food. The decision came on gradually. I was curious if I could last more than a few hours. Would I feel different? Worst case, I figured I could always quit.
A few weeks ago, I ordered a juicer, and started messing around with fruits and vegetables. I read some blogs, gathered some recipes, and decided to try a three-day juice “cleanse.” I also bought a whole lot of fruit.
Under normal circumstances my eating looks something like this:
- 6 a.m. eat a banana and drink water before workout
- 8:30 a.m. latte with 2% milk (about 1 cup total)
- 10 a.m. Greek yogurt. Maybe granola.
- 12:30 lunch: salad with grain. Sandwich/leftovers. Piece of fruit.
- 2:30 Crazy cravings start kicking in. I am starving. Cue cheese and crackers, chocolate, peanut butter filled pretzels. Sometimes all three.
- 5 p.m. Hungry again. Snack.
- 6 p.m. dinner. Protein, vegetable, carb. I try to put more vegetables on my plate than anything else.
While I generally “eat clean” I also have a lot of days where I struggle. Some days I feel like I’m starving no matter how much I eat. I crave chocolate, bread and cheese, especially when it’s cold out. I don’t drink enough water.
My days with juice looked like this:
- 6 a.m.- drink 8 ounces of juice. Go to workout.
- 8:30 a.m. latte (I couldn’t give up coffee.)
- 10 a.m. 16 ounces juice
- 12:30 p.m. 16 ounces juice
- 2 p.m. 16 ounces juice. Eat a carrot/apple.
- 6 p.m. 16 ounces juice
Drink a lot of water.
drink the rainbow
The first day was the hardest, but I never actually felt hungry while juicing. I also never had any of the crazy cravings that normally plague me. I didn’t even THINK about candy or grilled cheese or chips. Occasionally, I would feel an urge to EAT something, but it seemed to be driven by a primal urge to chew than an actual hunger. Hence the apple/carrot a day. I also managed to maintain my workout schedule, though I don’t think I exercised with the same intensity as normal. Yes, I lost weight. And yes, I gained it all back as soon as Easter hit and my mom showed up with a basket full of peanut butter cups and wine. Sigh.
What did I drink? I tried to mix it up, creating my own recipes, and using recipes from other blogs. Some juices were lovely, and a few were really gross, but eventually I tweaked everything to my taste (read: love of kale/beets/ginger).
juice at work
My hypothesis is that the juice nutrient-blast does something to quell my other cravings. But juicing is also kind of boring, in terms of gastronomy. I missed the excitement of creating and eating food, the fun of trying new things. And my social life? Almost nil. So now, I’m trying to focus on incorporating juice into my diet, sort of as a snack replacement. When I get the afternoon munchies, I try and sip a juice slowly rather than diving into the office pretzel bin. If I’m still hungry, I have a piece of fruit. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to 100 percent keep away from the junk, but this seems like a step in the right direction.
A lot of the recipes I followed came from this blog post, which includes a convenient shopping list. But I also tweaked and tailored things, which you’ll see below. A note: your juice yield will depend on a number of things, including the efficiency of your juicer and the size and freshness of your produce. Adjust accordingly.
1 large beet
2 granny smith apples
1 knob of ginger the size of your thumb
2 stalks celery
1 handful kale
2 lemons, peeled with minimal white pith
1 handful kale
2 green apples
1 cucumber, skin on
ginger, if desired
1/3 pineapple, skin removed
handful mint leaves
1-2 green apples
2 grapefruit, peeled with minimal white pith
2 oranges, peeled with minimal white pith
1 granny smith apple
2-3 carrots, top and tip removed
As things go, I generally have good luck when I go to great restaurants. I manage to get reservations at hard to book spots, get invited into the kitchens of masters, and generally eat well. But the karma scales tipped into the other direction last week when I ate at Michael’s Genuine in Miami. I won’t bury the lede: it was the worst restaurant experience I can remember.
Miami often gets trashed for being all style and little substance, and as restaurants go, Michael’s Genuine was supposed to be the institution that bucked that trend. While others were focused on ambience and presentation, Michael’s focused on food that was “homemade, unpretentious, delectable, with an emphasis on great local ingredients.” Chef Michael Schwartz supposedly did such a good job with the concept that he took home the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South Award in 2010.
I visited Michael’s Genuine shortly after it opened in 2007, and was impressed. I had some sort of mussels in tomato broth over black rice, and it was phenomenal. My memories were so positive that the second thing I did after booking my trip to Miami was make a reservation there. I couldn’t believe how the place had changed.
obligatory menu shot
Our reservation was for 8:30 on a Thursday— peak dinnertime in Miami, but nothing an established institution can’t handle. I’d requested an outdoor table, and wasn’t thrilled when the hostess informed me that we’d be sitting inside, but I figured that it would be fine. It wasn’t. We were seated at a four-top that had been separated into two two-tops— with about six inches of space between our tables. When the woman at the next table wanted to use the bathroom, I had to get up. When they left and a new couple came, I had to get up. Servers reached across my food to clear the next table’s dishes, pour more water, and give them their check. At one point, the other couple’s food was set on my table until I told them it wasn’t mine. The food was promptly taken away and reappeared 10 minutes later, cold, but in front of the right guests.
Though there seemed to be an abundance of servers, bus boys and wait staff, everyone was harried. I would have told the servers who brought the wrong food to check with the next table, but they were gone before I could get a word out.
Our table had a view of the kitchen, which I usually love, but in this case it just made me more uncomfortable. One of the line cooks was clearly pissed off, and a sous chef spent the better part of 20 minutes cracking eggs into a bowl and then fishing out the yolks with his hands. Ever try to eat while you watch snotty eggs drip through someone’s fingers? Yeah, you don’t want to.
And the food? It wasn’t worth the abuse of sitting at that table. A baked farm egg was pretty good, but nothing I couldn’t make at home. Same with a greasy faro salad. An $18 shiitake mushroom and leek pizza arrived cold, somehow burnt on the edges and undercooked in the middle, and topped with raw mushrooms. Similarly, our cauliflower was burned and raw at the same time, tasteless despite the green sauce it was bathed in. The pork belly that is supposed to be one of the Schwartz’s signature dishes came with a kimchi that was an insult to the world of fermented vegetables: a pile of cold cabbage doused in red pepper.
I would have tried dessert, but our waiter disappeared for 40 minutes: from the time I got my appetizer until after our dinner dishes were cleared. I finally got so exasperated I told a busboy to please just bring the check. (They did take the pizza off the bill when we complained, but our server was otherwise unapologetic).
What happened to a place that held such promise? How did I have such an across the board bad experience? Did the staff just get complacent? Was the management focused on other things? Are James Beard Awards just not that hard to get? I’ve been to diners with better food, and dive bars with better service. I’m still stunned.
Not wanting to just post something negative, I tweeted Michael’s Genuine’s PR person and Chef Schwartz to try to talk to them about my experience, but they haven’t responded, and the restaurant’s web site lists no email contact. The lack of response just reinforces my bad feelings about the place… it kind of seems like they genuinely don’t care.