2016 In Review

Here we are, the end is nigh! 2016 is about to come to a close. I know that it has become a popular thing to talk about how terrible this year was. And I agree with that assessment in certain respects *cough…the election…cough* but when I take a step back and examine all that happened, it’s hard to call it a bad year. It went by wicked fast but I think it’s because I had so many fun plans.

I mean, it started with a trip to Seattle where I fell madly in love with the city (and missed a major snowstorm in the process). I ate the best doughnuts of my life, and sipped on cocktails all day when I wasn’t cozied up next to a fire with a massive cup of coffee. It won’t be the last time I’m there.

The spring through summer doldrums were filled with cinnamon bun cruffins, chocolate waffles, bonnie butter cake and shaken iced coffees.

Then I spent a good part of July at the beach. Tan lines were on point this year.

Shortly after I went to Denver, another magical land full of mountains, red rocks, green grasses, voodoo doll shaped doughnuts and speed cameras that make you look like thugs. I went to Austin 3 days after and ate more voodoo doll shaped doughnuts. Classic.

October came and MY SISTER GOT MARRIED! So yeah, that’s big.

And I spent the remainder of October hanging out at various theme parks and chillin with my awesome softball team and Anthony Bourdain.

And let’s not forget those 26 miles I ran in November that I spent 18 weeks preparing for.

I finished out the year with experimantal pink hair, Christmas festivities and a nice long trip to Boston and now here we are, 36 hours from the finish line. So yeah, although there were definite aspects of 2016 that made me feel like this…

…all things considered, it wasn’t so bad after all.

Happy New Year everyone and wishing you an amazing 2017!

So this is Christmas and Nutella Brown Butter Rice Crispy Treats (3 ways!)

 So this is Christmas.

Last December while I was at work, I saw that my aunt had written a blog post on my cousin’s blog and shared it on her Facebook page. I had never seen anything like this from her before so I curiously opened the post. It was about her mother and sister (my grandmother and aunt) and her thoughts on the Christmas holiday as it approached for the first time without her mother. (Seriously, read it if you have a chance). I remember finishing the post, a knot wrenching at the base of my throat and tears welling up in my eyes, and barely making it to a bathroom stall before deep sobs escaped me. And thus I became that girl that cries in the work bathrooms. Good times.

So this is Christmas.

People often see the loss of childhood innocence as it pertains to Christmas as the time where one no longer believes in Santa. But I disagree. I think that Christmas will always have a magical quality to it but there is a point in which the celebration starts to carry a certain heaviness.

I will always see Christmas as a time to cherish for its ability to bring friends and families together and create lifelong memories. But a few years ago I began to look upon this holiday with an additional mindset of “maybe this is the last time this loved one will be around for Christmas,” or “this is the first Christmas without that person here.” And so you put forth this energy to try to fill a gaping hole or avoid a topic with this odd over-cheeriness that’s maybe meant to mask it all. There’s almost a pressure to make each moment jolly as a means to an end so as if to say “Yes, it’s Christmas so everybody better be fucking happy” through gritted teeth rather than simply enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company. And it turns this once enchanted holiday, a time that, as a child, felt like a jewel so rare and so flawless that it could only be gazed upon once a year, into a still cheerful holiday, but one tinged with bitter solemnness. You start to understand what Joni Mitchell was feeling as she sang River. You start to sympathize with Scrooge and relate with his resentment.  Maybe this is what becoming an adult is like.

So this is Christmas.

But before you conjure images of me as a soulless woman spouting “Bah! Humbug!” to any and all passerby, you should stop. Because the truth is, I still love Christmas. I turned my apartment into a glistening gold wonderland weeks ago. I can't wait until I'm sitting around the kitchen table with my family eating bottomless appetizers and telling stories of the past. I listen to Christmas music every time I cook and even sent out Christmas cards for the first time in my life, another activity that I truly consider an initiation into “adulting.” And especially this year, a year that feels so shitty for many reasons and for many people, I think a good dose of holiday spirit is exactly what we all need. So worries and sadness aside, let’s talk about Nutella rice crispy treats.

I made these for a Christmas party I had at my apartment last week. They were flanked by the only chocolate chip cookies I ever make, my famous sausage dip, a massive cheese board, and a verrryyy lethal rum punch. You may think that a rice crispy treat can’t really get too inventive, but you would be wrong there. First, these begin with a base of browned butter, which only increases the nuttiness that the entire jar of Nutella contributes. Second, they have a nice amount of salt to them, which makes a nice contrast to the sweetness off all that marshmallow. And third, they get a variety of coatings one of which is a mixture of pulverized freeze-dried strawberries and edible glitter. It creates these sparkly deep red cubes of gooey goodness counterbalanced by the tart flavor of the strawberries. It’s a true Christmas gem. 

When I woke up the next day after 3 hours of sleep with the wickedest of hangovers, I crossed the sticky beer-coated path of a floor to the table where we had the food. What remained were 4 solitary M&Ms and 2 cubes of these Nutella rice crispy treats. I found my breakfast.

So this is Christmas.

Nutella Brown Butter Rice Crispy Treats (3 ways!)

Makes 24-36
Recipe by Bon Appetit

¾ cup (1.5 sticks) of butter
2 10.5 oz bags mini marshmallows
1 tsp. salt
1 small jar Nutella
12 cups crispy rice cereal
½ cup powdered sugar
1 1.2 oz bag freeze-dried strawberries
1 tsp. edible red luster dust

To make the rice crispy treats butter a 13x9 inch baking dish. Line with parchment paper, leaving some overhang, and then butter the parchment as well.

Heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat. As it begins to foam, occasionally swirl the butter in the pan. As the foam subsides, keep watch for the butter to turn a nice amber color and smell toasty.  This means it’s perfectly browned. Add the marshmallows and salt. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the marshmallows are melted. Add the Nutella and continue cooking and stirring for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add half of the cereal. Stir until well-coated and add the rest. Continue folding the cereal into the marshmallows until the mixture is evenly coated and no spots of dry cereal remain.

Transfer to the mixture to the prepared dish and use a wooden spoon to spread and flatten as much as possible. As it begins to cool you can cover it with another sheet of parchment paper and use your hands to press the mixture into the pan as evenly as possible. Cover loosely and set aside to cool for a few hours.  

To finish the treats remove them from the pan by lifting up on the parchment underneath and peeling it away. Transfer to a cutting board and use a large serrated knife to trim a little bit off each side to square off the edges. Then, cut into perfect cubes, as big or as little as you’d like. Set aside one-third of the treats to stay plain. For another third, pour the powdered sugar into a fine-mesh sieve and dust the treats with it, making sure to coat all sides. For the final third, blitz the strawberries in a food processor and mix with the luster dust. Transfer this to the sieve and coat the treats on all sides with this mixture. Arrange all treats on a platter.

Marathon Salad

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The past week has been undoubtedly bizarre for many many people and I for one can say that between the political blindside and the fear that’s crept over us from that AND running my first full marathon on Saturday, I’m left feeling mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.

But, the good thing about having to run 26 miles after the confusion that resulted from last week’s election is that running is the most cathartic thing I know how to do. Besides focusing on breathing or the pain that the body feels, I do a lot of general thinking, in this this case 4 hours and 26 minutes of distractive, stream of consciousness thinking. It's unavoidable. And naturally while running I couldn't help, in light of the week's events, thinking about the word “running” itself, what it means, and how it applies to our lives right now.

Running of course was what I was doing. Moving my legs and my feet, hitting the pavement to try to make 26 miles go by as fast as possible. It means being considered for something, as in "in the running" or "running for president." And after that happens it can move on to mean having control over something like when you "run the show" or on a bigger scale "run the entire country." This word can be used in so many phrases like "Obama had a really good run" or "I think our new president is going to go in there running with scissors."

But in a time when we feel so confused and so hurt, when the news makes our blood run cold, we need to remember to not run away from the problems and horrors that await us. And we also shouldn't act out and run amok causing even more chaos and turmoil. Because running also means moving forward and making something continue to work, the creation of productivity. We need to hit the ground running in our efforts to support each other and causes that we believe in, to do good in this world. And even if we feel like we're running on empty, we cannot stop. It may be a morbid thought, but we are constantly technically running out of time so why not put our efforts into bringing positivity into the world and making a change while we can instead of dwelling on the facts that we cannot. We need to hold onto and run with the idea, no, the Truth, that love trumps hate. Always. I just had to look around at the marathon to see all the good that exists around us, all of the hope and dreams and the support and encouragement of friends and families, my own and others.

And when the weekend full of cathartic thinking was done, I did start to feel better and ready to stand up and fight for my justice and that of those at risk of having it taken away. So I tossed aside any pity party attitude and made myself what I have thus dubbed Marathon Salad. Why? Well, because I spent the past 2 weeks eating nothing but pasta and race day eating the entire contents of the junk food aisle plus beer and all I wanted was some greenery in my life. It’s loaded with lots of energizing protein and nutrient-dense ingredients. It’s creates a sustained sense of fullness, a necessity to anyone aiming for greatness in every way, who needs the energy for battles ahead. But I do think it would be a great meal to have the night before a long run too. And it’s hella delicious.

The idea for this salad started when I got an email for this one from Bon Appetit a while back. I love this because it’s a non-recipe, one that you make more on intuition. You squeeze a lemon over kale and rub it with your hands until it breaks down, finishing it off with olive oil salt and pepper. The rest is a “do what feels right” combination of cheese, nuts, seeds, and any extra veg you may want. I also recently got an awesome autumnal salad from Taylor Gourmet that was topped with thin Italian style breaded chicken cutlets that I loved so much I’ve been craving them for weeks. Naturally I just decided to make them for myself. This salad is a really happy marriage between the two, a playground of flavors and textures – salty, crunchy, sweet, juicy, earthy, tart, chewy – that I couldn’t get enough of. My exhausted body is thanking me already. Now onward and upward!

Marathon Salad
Makes 4 servings
Both recipes adapted from Bon Appetit

Note: Images show the salad with roasted Brussels sprouts too but I could probably do without the extra effort next time.

Salad Ingredients
2 large bunches of kale, ribs removed and washed, dried, and torn into irregular pieces
1 lemon
olive oil
2 tart apples, cored and diced
½ cup pepitas, toasted
2 big handfuls of cubed smoked aged cheddar
salt and pepper, to taste
Breaded Italian chicken cutlets, recipe follows

For the Chicken
6 small boneless skinless chicken cutlets, pounded to ¼ inch thickness
¾ cup flour
2 eggs
2 tsp. mustard powder
2 tsp. parsley flakes
¼ tsp garlic powder
1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
8 Tbs. olive oil, divided

Wash and prep all of your salad ingredients and then begin by making the chicken cutlets. In a large clean workspace, set out 4 large plates with a wide shallow bowl in the middle. Place your raw chicken in the first plate. Pat it dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Pour the flour into the second plate. In the middle bowl, whisk together the eggs, mustard powder, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper with a fork. On the fourth plate, combine the breadcrumbs and the parmesan. Leave the fifth empty.

Take one of your chicken cutlets and coat it in the plain flour. Then dunk it into the eggs. Coat all sides then lift it up to let the excess drip off. Transfer the chicken to the plate with the breadcrumbs and press the crumbs onto all sides of the chicken. Place the finished breaded cutlet onto the fifth empty plate until all of the chicken is coated.

Heat 4 Tbs. of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Cook half of the chicken for 4 minutes per side until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and repeat with the remaining oil and chicken. Set aside to rest while assembling the salad.

In a large bowl, add the kale and the juice of the lemon. Use your hands to scrunch the kale, massaging it with your fingers and coating with the lemon until it is wilted and shiny. Drizzle over a few Tbs. of olive oil while tossing the kale to coat it. Add salt and pepper and give the greens one final scrunch with your handsso that the salt melts into the dressing. Add the apples, pepitas, and cheddar. Thinly slice the chicken across the grain and arrange over the salad. Top with salt and pepper as desired.

Halloween Carrot and Black Sesame Cake

Try to make plans with me these days and you’re likely to get the response “Sorry, I’m busy.” And looking back I think I’ve spent the last 4 months mastering the art of busyness. Should I be worried about this?

At first I thought it was a way to avoid as much FOMO as possible, thinking that if I planned out long weekend trips and vacations each Friday through Sunday, booked my nights with softball games and marathon training, and cultural events, how could I possibly miss out. But it’s been the opposite. Instead I schedule myself out 2 months ahead and subsequently have to shut down everything that comes up later.

No, I think the “busy complex” comes from something more along the lines of FOBU (fear of being useless) and the ever-dreaded thought that if I fail to make plans then my life will be empty and meaningless. I definitely know this isn’t true but I’m sure the mindset came from spending my college time and several years in my 20s with a terrible case of FOHF (fear of having fun) and did homework and avoided human interaction as a weekend hobby. Luckily those days are long gone. And so are the bad acronyms, I’ll stop that now.

But October has been especially abundant in busyness between my sister’s wedding, 18-mile runs, and back-to-back weekends gallivanting around theme parks for their seasonal Halloween openings. So when this past Friday came around complete with a sinus infection and a previous night of 4 hours sleep because I hung out with Anthony Bourdain and José Andrés instead, I succumbed to life’s pleas for me to, just this once, relax and not have plans. So that’s what I did, if you count baking a loaf cake and bingeing on Six Feet Under as not having plans.

This recipe has been circling around a lot in the past few weeks. That’s because it comes from the newly arrived cookbook Everything IWant to Eat which I don’t actually own but people are keep freaking out about it and posting recipes. And I hopped on the bandwagon because a loaf cake that’s colored like Halloween and tastes like Asian fusion spice cake very much calls my name.

The cake (though I keep wanting to call it a bread since it’s loaf shaped and leaning on the savory side of things as far as cakes go) lived up to my high expectations after all the hype. It’s a vegan recipe and I think that by using neutral flavored ingredients like oil, applesauce, and almond milk instead of rich eggs and butter, it really allows the savory nuttiness of the black sesame seed crust to shine though along with its earthy and sweet carrot, ginger, and cinnamon costars. The moisture of the carrots keeps the cake from getting dry too. In fact, over the course of 24 hours I think the cake has only become more tender, moist, and flavorful. Did all of this stop me from giving it a healthy swipe of butter though? Well of course not because, butter. I mean, if I’m going to be giving up my social life then that’s the least I can allow myself to make it all bearable, right? ;)

Happy Halloween Everyone.

Halloween Carrot and Black Sesame Cake
Makes 1 loaf
Adapted very slightly from Jessica Koslow’s Everything I Want To Eat

2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cardamom
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup almond milk
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ tsp. salt
2 large carrots, coarsely grated
½ cup vegetable oil
2-3 Tbs. black sesame seeds

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a standard loaf pan. Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, and baking powder in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, brown sugar, applesauce, almond milk, ginger, vanilla, and salt together. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture. Once mixed, stir in the carrots and then the oil until thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and sprinkle liberally with the sesame seeds.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let it cool completely in the pan before removing and slicing. Store, covered, at room temperature.

You, Me, and a Big Sexy Bowl of Red Cabbage

Sounds like the title of a romance novel right? Wait, you mean I lost you at the red cabbage part? Now hold on, don’t run off so fast. I know that a bowl of red cabbage elicits images of the scene in Willy Wonka where Charlie walks into the house disappointed by yet another evening of cabbage water soup. But trust me, this cabbage is different. This cabbage is truly sexy.

Imagine, if you will, a vegetable transformed. This one starts peppery and slightly bitter, refreshing and crunchy. But as it spends a good hour in a pot cozying up to crispy bacon and sweet caramelized onions, big chunks of crisp fall farmers market apples and a hefty dose of syrupy balsamic vinegar, things happen. The cabbage becomes tender throughout, staying a little al dente in the pieces closer to its core. All of the flavors condense into this sweet and sour glaze, making the glossy and slippery leaves of cabbage a nearly addicting treat, almost as if it were turned into candy. But there’s a smokiness that hides in the background too, masked somewhat by the sharpness of the tangy residual sauce that bubbles away beneath the cabbage, but rounding out the sweetness that exudes from the onion and apples.

This braised cabbage, in all of its sensual glory is without a doubt one of the greatest fall staple foods for me. It’s quick and comforting. It warms the house, perfuming it with smoky and sweet smells. Not to mention it makes an enormous number of servings. So for me, it was the perfect dish to tuck into the week before my sister’s wedding, a week of cooler temperatures and gloomy rain, a week of practicing my speech and sorting through logistics. In fact, even though I paired it with salt-roasted potatoes and bratwursts, there were several nights where all I managed was scooping some of the cabbage onto a plate, heating it up, and cracking open a beer. Few things are more comforting for me and more exemplary of the Fall season. Simple, yes. Bruise-colored in color, yes. But still hella sexy, definitely yes.

Braised Red Cabbage with Apples, Bacon, and Balsamic
Serves 4 as a main, 8 as a side
from Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie

Olive oil
½ lb. bacon, sliced thinly crossways
1 Tbs. fennel seeds, thoroughly crushed
1 onion, sliced
2 apples, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
1 red cabbage, removed of outer leaves and the core and chopped into large chunks
¾ cups balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley

Pour a glug of olive oil into a large heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium-high. Add the bacon and fennel seeds and cook, stirring frequently until the bacon is crisp. Add the onion, stir, and put on the lid for a few minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the apples and the cabbage. Season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and mix well. Put the lid on the pot and cook over low heat for an hour, stirring every now and then. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve with a bit of butter and a handful of the chopped parsley. Even better with bratwursts and these salt-roasted potatoes