Archive for the ‘by the book’ Category

As a magazine writer and editor, I’ve been known to embrace periodicals. I subscribe to, of course, The Washington Post, Esquire, Bust and The Week. My Gramma Woho, bless her heart, sends me all of last month’s Time magazines every month. Washingtonian regularly graces my coffee table. I pick up Mother Jones, Good, Bitch, etc., quarterly/as they come out. But there is one magazine that I’m a little ashamed to pick up every month, one that never comes out on the airplane.

Real Simple.

Yes, that mixture of clean design, urban spendiness and suburban Heloise-style tips is basically my favorite reading material every month. I LIKE THE DESIGN, OK? And I like new uses for old things! And I like reading recipes I will never, ever make. EXCEPT THAT I DID.

This month’s issue had a recipe that a) didn’t feed an army of perfectly-dressed children, b) did not include salmon (sorry, I just can’t get into it) and c) had relatively few ingredients, and I liked all of them. So I thought I’d give it a go. And it turned out pretty good! And then the next day I went along and made it better.

Pasta with Goat Cheese and Basil Oil

You’ll need:

Any short pasta (I used rotini)


Basil leaves (the measurement in the magazine is six parts basil to one part oil. Go with it)

Crumbled goat cheese (if you need a measurement for this you’re reading the wrong food blog, I think)

Salt and pep

OK! So you’re gonna cook up the pasta, and while that’s going, you’re supposed to blend/food process the basil and oil together, then strain that whole mess through a fine sieve. I don’t have any of that. I have an immersion blender.

Please don’t use an immersion blender for this, because it does not work.

Oh boy. That's not working.

Anyway, when you drain the pasta, pour the oil or oil-basil sludge in my case, over the pasta. Season with a little salt, a pinch of pepper and get the whole thing going with goat cheese, which will magically fix your oil problems. You can dunk bread in it too and  your mouth won’t mind. Maybe throw some chicken breast in there if you want some protein that isn’t tangy and creamy.

Oh that's better. Thank goodness.

So that’s all well and good. But the next day it was even better, because I had some tomatoes and a red bell pepper that looked like they were about to go belly-up, so I sauted the whole thing together, then put more of that magical goat cheese on top. This was even better! The red pepper really adds a little sum’n-sum’n to the cheese, and the whole thing gets brightened up a bit with a squeeze of lemon over it. Yum.

I wish I had a picture to show you of day two’s leftovers meal, but I ate it too fast to think about taking a picture. Instead, I’ll post a picture of a baby goat, in keeping with the ingredients list.

Hey dude.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go use an old toothbrush to clean the molding along my floorboards.



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Food blog, I have neglected you. I’m so sorry about that. Jessica did a great job holding down the fort, especially since she’s getting a master’s degree and working about 30 jobs. I shouldn’t have left her to the task all alone.

Let’s catch you up to speed. I was working a job, then I turned 26 and suddenly wasn’t working a job anymore. I tutored The Children for a bit, and picked up an internship at a local yoga studio, which basically means I clean yoga mats on Saturday mornings. I started swimming at my local gym, which I like a lot more than running. I got a new, better, way more awesome job, and entered a baking competition in which I made it to the finals before petering out spectacularly.  I went on a bunch of dates, some of which were delightful and some of which were awkward, with lots of overlap, actually. I saw some great concerts and listened to great music and read a bunch of really good books.

And I cooked a lot.

I’ll catch you up on the cake competition some other time, because I’m still nursing wounds from my blowout in the finals. Let’s try something a little more petite. A little more delicious. Something like… whoopie pies! How about BANANA SPLIT-INSPIRED whoopie pies!

I made these little numbers based on a recipe from Bust magazine (which you should absolutely read). I took them to a barbecue hosted by my friend Ania, who is equal parts beautiful, kind, warm and talented. I wish I had pictures of the finished product but these puppies went FAST. They will at your house, too. Here’s what you do.

You’ll need, for the cakes:

2 C flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

4 Tbsp butter (room temp)

4 Tbsp shortening

1/2 C light brown sugar

1/4 sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

3 very ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat your oven to 350 and line your baking sheets with parchment paper. You’re using that for all of your baking, right? You should be. It makes life a million times better. 

So you sift the flour, baking soda and salt together. In another bowl, beat the butter, shortening, sugars and vanilla – the recipe says for 3 minutes but I think you can tell when it’s time. Add the eggs and beat for a couple of minutes more. Then mix in the bananas. Then add the flour mixture! What a delicious mess! For single-serving niblets, you’re gonna drop your batter in 1/2 Tbsp-sized globs on the baking sheets. Bake ’em for about 10 minutes.

While you’ve got the cake part of this tasty little treat going, start doing the filling.

You’ll need:

1 1/2 C Marshmallow Fluff

1 1/4 C shortening

1 C powdered sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla

1/4 C strawberry preserves (Target’s Market Pantry brand is surprisingly yummy and I might consistently jazz up plain yogurt with it)

OK, so here you’re going to beat the Fluff and the shortening together for three minutes on medium. You actually want to beat it this long for real because holy hell is that stuff messy. Once it’s smooth and not gross, reduce to low and add the sugar and vanilla. Mess City again! Beat that back up to medium for another three minutes, then mix in your preserves.


So you’re gonna construct these little Oreo-type thingies. Take a cool cake, plop a bunch of filling on it, add a similar-sized cake on top. Feel free to clean up the edges and lick the excess off your finger. Put your new sandwiches on a parchment-lined thing (in my case, a cake carrier) and pop them in the fridge. I did this overnight with no problem.

Before you’re going to serve these delicious monstrosities, heat up a thingie of dipping chocolate and chop up some peanuts. If you have a Slap Chop, I recommend that, because chopping peanuts with a knife is BORING and time-consuming. So you’re gonna take a sandwich, dip half of it in the chocolate, then roll it into the nuts. Top the thing with a maraschino cherry before the chocolate dries. Your friends will love them. Andrew clearly did.

Motion blur comes from loving whoopie pies SO MUCH.

It’s time to celebrate, team. Time to say “whoopie!” Even if life has you down in the dumps, good things are surely around the corner.



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Part One

Part Two

Part Three

So here I am, after a year of not-eating-meat. I am thinking about how to proceed with my food-life, how the past year has gone, what I’ve learned, and my goals for the future.

Point #1: Not eating meat is really not particularly difficult or unpleasant

I’ve had cravings, for sure, and a lot of weird dreams where I eat meat and wake up with a guilty, dream hangover, but overall, eating vegetarian is pretty easy given my particular lifestyle. I don’t think I ate any fake-meat products (other than some at my parents’ house which I shared with my vegan younger sister), I learned how to cook a lot of new tasty dishes, and I developed a repertoire of interesting, satisfying, non-meat meals.

As I mentioned in Part Three, if it’s something I CAN do that has a variety of positive impacts, then why not continue to do it?

I worry that if I “give myself permission” to eat meat again, I will just throw it into my diet just because I can. There’s no reason to eat at McDonald’s, but if you are a meat-eater and starving, you might end up with a double cheeseburger (and a stomachache…), but as a vegetarian, you’ll probably hold out until the nearest Subway.

So why mess with a good thing?

Point #2: I am somewhat concerned about my overall nutrition as a vegetarian

I don’t think that a vegetarian diet is an inherently unhealthy diet. I’m sure there is much research proving the opposite, actually. However, I do worry sometimes that my particular vegetarian diet is a little heavy on the carbs, on the sugars, and on the cheese. I probably eat one or two bean-based meals a week, but that’s about all I can stomach – is my diet lacking in lean proteins? I don’t have a weight problem, necessarily, but I am concerned that relying on salty hummus & crackers & cheese all day, every day, is contributing to a few unnecessary pounds. Fruits and veggies and beans are great, but sometimes I struggle to find foods that actually fill me up, which leaves me susceptible to over-snacking.

I am also concerned about those pesky Omega-3’s. I’ve been getting better at eating greens almost every day, and when I have a bowl of cereal or oatmeal I usually throw on a tablespoon of ground flax seed, but I wonder if a little salmon once in awhile might improve my health/quality of life.

I haven’t done much research or analysis of my own nutritional intake, but it’s something I think about from time to time. There isn’t any reason a vegetarian-diet can’t be healthy, but there might be a better choice for my current lifestyle and nutritional needs.

Point #3: I am unsure of how far my morality stretches, and in what directions.

Jonathan Safran Foer did a good job of challenging my own beliefs about the reality of killing animals to put them on my dinner plate. That is for sure.

However, I’m a moderate at heart: I don’t think that meat, as a source of fuel, is an inherently “bad” thing. Like Michael Pollan, I think that the quickest way to turn people off to dietary change is to tell them what not to eat – in the long run, meat is going to be around, so proselytizing against carnivorism is not going to get you or society anywhere. It is better, maybe, to find BETTER sources for meat than CAFOs, and to promote and support those endeavors with your “food dollars.”

I also agree with Barbara Kingsolver that LOCAL is probably much more important than MEAT vs. NOT-MEAT. Meat is really just another vehicle for calories, and in many climates (see: Boston), the weather just doesn’t support eating high-quality, local produce all year-round. In February, I am probably doing more good eating a hamburger from a cow in Vermont than I am filling my basket at Whole Foods with organic lettuce and tomatoes and broccoli shipped up from Argentina.

So I’m not sure how “okay” I am with eating animals. It could be a situation where practicality wins out over theory.

Point #4: I don’t know if my budget will allow me to eat the kind of meat I would like to include in my regular diet

All practicality aside, the thought of returning to eating meat indiscriminately turns my stomach – literally and figuratively.

There’s just too much corruption/danger/bad karma/brutality going on in the general, mass-produced meat industry these days. I go to Qdoba and watch people order a chicken queso burrito: they see tasty chicken pieces for their dinner, I see a pile of who-knows-what from who-knows-where.

I haven’t thought about specifics yet, but I think in an ideal world, I would be okay with eating locally-produced, ethically raised/caught/slaughtered meat dishes from trustworthy vendors.

The good news: I live in Boston. I can find that kind of meat, I can find restaurants that only serve that kind of meat, etc.

The bad news: I live in Boston on a grad student’s budget. I can’t afford to add another 20-30 dollars to my weekly food bill just so I can eat chicken parmesan on Friday nights.

So basically, even if I was like Yeah! Rah! Let’s Eat Meat Again!, I can’t really integrate it into my diet in any sustainable way.

In Conclusion:

I am still thinking about the past year and how to proceed in the future. Until I have time to settle things with myself, I will continue to abstain from eating meat. I can envision some kind of Vegetarian-in-Practice, not-in-Name scenario, where I continue to eat as I have grown accustomed to, but with a few concessions. A slice of turkey or a scoop of sausage gravy on family holidays. A special occasion cheeseburger from a restaurant that sources Good meat. Maybe a Thursday-night salmon dinner if I can find an acceptable/affordable source.

It’s tricky, fluid, and confusing, but I am really glad that I decided to live as a vegetarian for the past year. I’ve never once regretted my decision or how I’m choosing to interpret my task as a Responsible Eater. I’m glad that, because of my choice, I have explored new foods, forced my roommate to eat fancy vegetables she’s never tried, and that my boyfriend is practically vegetarian by default. I don’t know if my health has improved or not, but I did only get sick four times in 2010 (that’s pretty good for someone who is living with a brand-new elementary school teacher), and I haven’t struggled so much with low energy levels.

It’s been a good year. I hope the next 365 days can be just as excellent and full of great food, whether I am herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore.

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Part One

Part Two

A year ago, I decided to stop eating meat.

It wasn’t much of a stretch. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice medium-rare (maybe more toward the rare) steak, a thick cheeseburger, and you can’t keep me away from seafood…. mmmm…. but on a practical, day-to-day level, I’m very okay with not eating meat.

Sample menu from the Casa de Vegetarian-Jessica:


2 eggs, over easy, fried in a little butter

toast with butter and honey

Morning Snack

Starbucks mocha

Trail mix


Sharp cheddar and whole grain crackers

Apple and peanut butter

Afternoon Snack

Hummus and tortilla chips


Rice and broccoli casserole


Wine 🙂

I felt the heat, occasionally, at restaurants. You’d think that in this day and age, in hippie-Liberal Boston that you’d be able to feed yourself on most every menu… but that is not the case. I often found myself choosing between two undesirable entrees, or ordering things like the Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad, hold the Chicken and the Bacon.

That being said, I started out this dietary change with something in mind and that something is still here, a year later:

It’s more important to me that I cultivate a non-meat-based lifestyle than adhere to any particular LABEL.

So yes, I ate eggs. Lots of eggs. And when I was at the beach with my family at a seafood joint, I ate crab legs. And instead of ordering separate entrees on my anniversary dinner, I went to the Melting Pot and ate 7 kinds of meat. There may have been a surreptitious piece of bacon sometime in the last 365 days. I really can’t confirm or deny that.

So maybe I’m not a real vegetarian. I’m cool with that. Again, it’s not about ascribing to some higher standard of eating, about feeling like an elite-eating-member, about anything except the practical bits of life:

I don’t eat meat 99% of the time, which is better than not eating meat 98% of the time, which is better than not eating meat 1% of the time.

I’ve read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle a few times, and it really resonates with my idea of living harmoniously and healthily with food. For those of you who haven’t read, Kingsolver and her family decided that food was important to their family, so they moved from food-desert Arizona to a homestead in Appalachia. The book is a year in the life of a family eating locally – buying local, growing vegetables, raising (and slaughtering) chickens and turkeys. It’s really inspiring to read not only because it’s delightfully pastoral and… well.. written by Kingsolver, but also because it’s a story of a family that is doing what they can, in their life, within their means, to live in a way that is commensurate with their values.

So while I’m not caught up in labels, not sure what vegetarianism means to me on a personal/moral level, it’s still something I can do. So I might as well do it.

But I told myself I would re-evaluate my stance in a year. So stay tuned for that, tomorrow.

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Read part one here

Michael Pollan’s take on American-ized industrial food is clear: stay away, vote with your food-dollars, don’t eat food your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as edible just because it’s what you grew up on.

Factory-produced meat is part of this problem. But Pollan isn’t anti-meat, at all.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

So why did I decide to cut it out of my diet?

Blame Jonathan Safran Foer.

So I read In Defense of Food. Last January, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Consider the first book to be an introduction to the food-dissertation that is the second. The first third of Omnivore is an in-depth look at the meat industry in America, which expounds upon the corn conundrum I mentioned earlier and begins to describe the things we just don’t want described – how your meat gets on your plate.

Now, as I said, Pollan isn’t anti-meat at all. I think that’s really smart and wise. Meat, in itself, isn’t bad for your health, bad for the environment, bad for the world. And asking a meat-eating country to change the food industry/national health by giving up on an entire food group (one that is caught up in family and cultural tradition, found in most restaurant meals, and is so tasty), is probably a bad strategy.

But then I read Eating Animals.

Where Pollan is kindly and diplomatic, Foer pushes buttons. Where Pollan looks for the best route for the most people, Foer asks you to reexamine your own choices.

Part memoir, part expose, part manifesto, this book grabbed me and pulled me in. There were lots of shocking descriptions of what goes on inside the meat industry. I know – big news, right? Read about some disgusting animal slaughters and then you can’t look at meat the same way again. Right?

I think that that was partly true. There are passages from Foer’s book that I still remember vividly, that not only revolted me but disturbed me on some kind of primal, human level. But what really bothered me was how hard the meat industry works to keep this a secret. Foer’s book is peppered with anecdotes from vigilante animal rights groups who resort to midnight breaking and entering, just to SEE what is going on in a chicken house.

Nobody WANTS to see how their meat gets to their Big Mac.

Especially the meat companies.

Because if you knew, then it would be difficult to reconcile continuing to purchase their product.

On a personal level, knowing what I then knew about the American food industry, the dangerous and sometimes horrific path “required” to turn animal into food, I was willing to listen to what Pollan so carefully skirted in his books, and what Foer wasn’t afraid to ask me.

Are you morally okay with causing the willful and malicious destruction of another life for the SOLE purpose of pleasing your tastebuds?

The answer was no.

Not a resounding, life-changing, screaming-vegan-from-the-mountaintops NO, but a “I would rather not take part in that process right now,” kind of no.

So I took my future-roommate out to dinner for her 24th birthday – February 19th, 2010 – ordered a cheeseburger with the works, and the next day I stopped eating meat.

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I know there are folks out there who don’t love Paula Deen, our fair nation’s Queen of Butter, the Lady of Licensing, the Grand Dame of Ham, but I don’t get those people. I love her. I love how feisty she is, and that she and her husband Michael “Myyyyyyyyh-cahhhhl” make sex jokes on her TV shows. I love her love of “budderrrr” and “ahhhhhl.”

I love her autobiography, It Ain’t All About The Cookin’, which my adorable and talented little sister got me for Christmas one year. I love her hair and that she never takes off her bling no matter what she’s cooking.

Most of all, I love an underdog story. You can read her biography pretty much anywhere online, but I think those stories are better in person. That’s why I went to go see her at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Expo in DC this weekend. (Note: I almost went to see Rachael Ray. I like her very much, too, but come on – PAULA DEEN. Not even a question.)

Paula! with the creator of Metrocooking (left).

Oh my gawd y’all. She was so funny. Paula’s live shows are not known for the cooking so much as her storytelling and general sass. My mom and I sometimes wondered watching “Paula’s Party” if she was drunk doing the shows, but I’m pretty sure she just likes to have good times. She takes the audience along for the ride.

All of us.

I’m not sure I can summarize the 90 or so minutes she spoke, but I’ll try: Lots of sex jokes and poop jokes, suggestive back-and-forth with Michael as he cooked with an assistant (cornbread stuffing, glaze for a fresh ham and a gooey butter cake, which we’ll get to in a minute). She recognized two audience members – a little boy from Make-A-Wish and an Iraq war veteran who’s signed up for another tour of duty – both made me cry a little bit. She answered a few audience questions, but mostly she just chatted away, Paula-style, and really, that was all I wanted. OK, maybe a few tips for my upcoming Thanksgiving Orphans dinner that I’m cookin’ up, but this was still pretty good. Oh, and at one point she actually used the phrase “the finest meat skins you’ve ever eaten,” regarding ham skin and making your own pork rinds. God I love her.

When I came home, I was inspired to make a version of her gooey butter cake.

For the crust, you’ll need:

A box of yellow cake mix

One stick of butter, melted

One egg

Mix those together until they form a dough, kind of like cookie dough. Spread that into a 13×9 pan that’s been lightly greased. I threw down a layer of bananas for deliciousness.

Then, for the filling, you’ll need:

One thingie of cream cheese, softened (I used Honey Nut)

Another melted stick of butter

Two more eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 box powdered sugar (I used a little more than half a box and it turned out OK)

Beat that cream cheese until it’s nice and smooth, then add in the butter, eggs and vanilla. Beat the hell out of that and then add the sugar. Beat it again! It’s going to be smooth and lovely when it’s done. Pour that concoction on top of your doughy crust thing. I threw on another layer of bananas because they’re yummy.

Pop the whole thing in a 350 oven for 40-50 minutes. You want the middle to still be gooey. I might have overdone or underdone mine. I don’t know. I do know that it was very tasty.

Love and best dishes, y’all, from Paula’s kitchen to mine, and then on to yers.


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