Monthly Archives: February 2014

Braised White Beans and Leeks

DSC_4501I made it to yoga this morning.  It was a small achievement in my day.  I went a couple of weeks ago for the first time in almost a year, and it was a less than satisfying experience.  I couldn’t believe how hard the moves felt compared to a year ago.  I struggled with every pose, my legs shaking like jello.  And because I mistakenly placed my mat towards the front of the room like a confident person (fake it till you make it, right?), I felt everyone’s eyes on me.  In my mind they, along with the instructor, were judging me and wondering why I thought I could do this.  This was an “open” class and the instructor stated that if we weren’t comfortable doing a pose to simply return to a pose that we were more comfortable with.  I did ok until the last 15 minutes, when the instructor led us into poses meant for Olympic athletes.  Everyone in the class seemed to have no problem contorting their bodies into strange and incredibly difficult poses.  I immediately felt like a failure for not being able to do any of them.  I returned to child’s pose and felt the shame wash over my body.  I had recently made a pact with myself to start doing yoga on a weekly basis.  Walking home after class, I knew it was going to be a struggle to return the following week.
DSC_4491I’m reading a book about fear right now.  The author’s thesis is that no matter what our fear is, it is rooted in the belief that we won’t be able to handle whatever it is that we fear.  So whether it’s facing the death of a loved one, unemployment, or a divorce, we are supposed to repeat the mantra, “I can handle this!” and then move forward in life impervious to said fears.  Alas, I skipped yoga the following week.  It was a tough week.  Despite this, or because of this, I should have made more of an effort to attend my yoga class.  Regardless, I made some mental readjustments over the weekend and was determined to do yoga this week.  I didn’t want one class to scare me away.  Walking to class this morning, I told myself to try and utilize the mindfulness aspect of the class instead of focusing simply on my strength, or lack thereof.  My legs still shook during certain poses, but I concentrated more on my breathing and simply staying mindful.  This time, instead of shame washing over my body during my last pose, I felt a sense of calm and stillness.  It was nice.  I did get distracted a few times by the instructor.  I found myself mesmerized by her voice, so much so that I found myself wondering if she does voiceover work.  I think I’ve lived in New York too long.  As I approached the steps to my apartment, an older man came walking up to me.  Angrily, he shouted, “I hate Astoria!  I would rather live in Puerto Rico any day than this shithole.  I hate this place.”  I shrugged at him and inserted my key into the lock.  I wasn’t going to let this random guy ruin my Zen state.
DSC_4497Seeing as this winter is never going to end (I heard NYC has had 18 snowstorms so far this winter!), I have been trying to balance my cravings for hearty food with healthy alternatives.  This recipe falls into both categories.  It’s pretty darn healthy and still a satisfying, substantial winter dish.  After taking my first bite, it reminded me of both a cheesy, herbaceous goulash and French onion soup.  I licked the spoon like it contained brownie batter and not white beans and leeks.  The original recipe called for dried cannellini beans, but I simplified it by substituting canned beans.  The result was a fast and easy recipe that would be perfect for a weeknight meal when you don’t have a lot of time but you want something rib-sticking good.

Braised White Beans and Leeks
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen

1-15 oz. can cannellini beans
3 large leeks
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 celery stalks, divided
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
2.  Trim the leeks, discarding the tough green tops, halve vertically, and rinse in cold water, making sure to clean out any dirt trapped between the layers.  Slice into thin half circles.
3.  In a large Dutch oven or heavy skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the celery, garlic, and leeks and cook until the vegetables are softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
4.  Add the beans, thyme, herbes de Provence, red pepper flakes to taste, salt and pepper.
5.  Stir in the vegetable broth and bring the mixture back up to a gentle boil.  Cook for approximately 25 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is gone.
6.  Sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan on top of the bean mixture and place the pot in the oven, leaving the lid off.  Cook until the cheese is completely melted and brown in spots, 8-10 minutes.  Serve warm.

Fennel Slaw

DSC_4484I’m in the middle of reading a fantastic book of essays called Goodbye to All That.  The tag line reads, “Writers on Loving and Leaving New York”.  I am completely absorbed in this book.  I thought it might help to convince me that there are plenty of other great places to live in this vast country of ours, but it’s having the opposite effect.  In each essay, there is a beautiful description of what first drew them to NYC.  Most of the writers had their first experience of the city when they were children and fell in love with it immediately.  The theme of being a misfit in whatever town you grew up in only to discover that NYC is where you finally fit in (among the misfits) is not a new concept by any means.  And yet, I never get tired of reading these stories, partly because I can identify.

My first time in New York was the summer after my college graduation.  My sister very generously bought me a plane ticket as a graduation gift.  We stayed in a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side for 4 or 5 days, and over the course of those few days, I was bewitched by the city.  We took in all of the usual tourist sights:  we rode on the Ellis Island ferry, went to the top of the Empire State Building, saw a Broadway musical, and took a tour of NBC Studios.  We even spotted Yoko Ono outside one of the Trump buildings!  I was completely smitten and knew I wanted to live here someday.

Five years later, my friend and I found an adorable apartment on the Upper West Side.  Although it was a steal for the size and location of the apartment, it was out of our price range.  But we didn’t care.  We were young and naïve and thought we could make it work.  One of my most vivid memories is of a picnic we had in Central Park that first summer.  It was the night of the Met Opera in the Park performance, and we had only found out about it by stumbling upon the rehearsal in the park earlier that afternoon.   We had no idea that half of the city would be there that night sprawled out with their blankets, bottles of wine and blocks of cheese.  I remember lying on my stomach, drunk on red wine, and eating olives, Gruyere, and French bread by the fistful.   We were relatively far away from the stage but we could hear the singers perfectly.  As the sun set in the warm summer sky, I had a silly grin on my face and I gazed up at the stars.  I knew this was where I was meant to be.  Eleven years later, I still have to pinch myself every so often when I think about the fact that I live in New York City.
DSC_4487Despite the fact that it has been snowing for 1,000 straight days here in New York, I wanted to make something light and refreshing last week.  Perhaps as a way to pretend I was in warmer climes, or maybe I just needed to change things up from all of the heavier, winter food I have been eating lately.  Regardless, this hit the spot.  I have come to really appreciate fennel the last few years.  It has great anise flavor along with a nice crunch that I always associate with celery (which I am not a big fan of).  The orange zest brightens up the slaw and the Parmesan cheese gives it a nice earthy, saltiness that it needs.  I’ve been eating a plate of this every day alongside whatever I’m eating for lunch.  It’s almost gone, and I’ll be sad to see it go.  Only 6 more weeks till spring….

Fennel Slaw
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen

2 large fennel bulbs, with a few chopped fronds
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 or 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  Slice the fennel bulbs horizontally as thinly as possible.  Remove any large core parts, then add the slices to a large mixing bowl with the fronds.
2.  Add the olive oil, along with the  orange zest and juice, to the bowl and toss.  Let it sit for about ten minutes to soften the fennel.  You can do this up to two days in advance.
3.  Before serving, add the parsley and Parmesan.
4.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Toss everything together and serve immediately.

Bacon Bark

DSC_4386I love Sunday mornings.  About 12 years ago, I started a habit where I would get up early on Sundays, go to the gym, and then as a reward, go to a local coffee shop for a pastry and The New York Times.  This simple weekly routine would give me boundless pleasure.  I looked forward to it all week.  Part of it was getting up before the rest of the city was awake.  There are very few moments when NYC is quiet, but early Sunday morning is one of those times.  And I savored every minute.  I actually enjoyed my workouts on Sunday mornings because I knew I was getting a reward afterwards.  Often times, I would bring my favorite donuts (cake donuts or bust!) in a Ziploc bag and settle in at a table with steaming hot coffee and the Sunday paper.  I would take my time reading it from cover to cover (except the unnecessary Sports Section) over the course of two hours.
DSC_4367But somewhere along the way, I stopped doing this thing that brought me so much delight.  Shortly after moving in with my husband things started to change.  He really enjoys staying in on Sunday mornings, so I thought it would be nice to stay in with him.  I had fantasies of us reading the paper together while curled up on the couch with our pastries in hand.  But Mr. K isn’t a big pastry guy.  He prefers a savory breakfast on the weekends.  And he isn’t really into reading the paper from cover to cover.  He mainly enjoys the Automobiles section, to which I say booooooo.  Eventually, the television would be turned on while I was reading the paper, and I would try not to feel disappointed.  It took me a few years to realize that I no longer enjoyed my Sunday mornings.  By trying to incorporate my husband into my routine, I was giving up something that brought me joy.
DSC_4374Of course, all it took was for me to simply communicate all of this to him.  He thought it was a no-brainer:  Why don’t I go back to the routine that I love so much?  Mr. K said his feelings would not be hurt in the least bit.  In fact, he said he really enjoyed getting work done on Sunday mornings, so this would be a win-win for both of us.   I sheepishly agreed that this was indeed a very simple issue to resolve.  If only I had spoken up sooner!  But the good news, readers?  The good news is that I am back to my old routine and loving every peaceful minute of it.  I’ve even discovered an adorable Maltese (Maltese!) bakery in my Queens neighborhood that has incredible pastries, so no need to smuggle in donuts anymore.
DSC_4370Since Valentine’s Day is officially on the horizon, I figured I should do something with one of my favorite foods:  chocolate!  One of my favorite chocolate bars right now is Mo’s Bacon Bar made by Vosges.  The pairing of crisp bacon and smoked salt with the dark chocolate is incredibly delicious.  (f you have a hard time finding smoked salt in your area, you can find it on Amazon.)  I have a hard time eating one square at a time when it’s in my apartment.  And then I thought, why spend $7 on a bar when I could easily make this at home?  So I did!  It’s as easy as making any other bark.  After tempering your chocolate (which is the trickiest part), you simply mix in the crispy bacon and smoked salt.  Voila!  You just saved $7.  Place the bark into cellophane bags, tie with red ribbon, and give one to your Valentine.

Bacon Bark

1.4 oz dark chocolate (about 2 cups; bittersweet or semi-sweet is fine)
4 pieces hickory smoked bacon
1/2 tsp. course smoked salt (I use Alderwood smoked salt)

Place parchment paper into a 9×13″ baking pan.

1.  Fry bacon over medium-high heat until extra crispy (around 7-8 minutes).
2.  Place bacon on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Cool completely.
3.  Finely chop bacon and set aside.
4.  Roughly chop dark chocolate and set aside 1/3 of chocolate.
5.  Place 2/3 of chocolate in double-boiler over medium-low heat.  Stir frequently until chocolate is completely melted.
6.  Remove from heat.  Add remaining 1/3 of chocolate and stir continuously until all of the chocolate has melted.
7.  Test temperature of chocolate with your finger.  Chocolate should feel neutral (not warm).  If chocolate is still warm, continue stirring until chocolate feels neutral in temperate.
8.  Stir in chopped bacon and smoked salt.  Pour into parchment-lined baking pan and spread out evenly.
9.  Place pan in refrigerator for approximately 1 hour.  Bark should be completely set.
10.  Grab the parchment paper and pull bark out of pan.  Using a sharp knife, cut bark into bite-sized pieces.

Homemade Nutella

DSC_4451Mr. K and I have been trying to conceive for almost a year now.  Anyone who has struggled with this knows that it can be an emotional rollercoaster.  At our highest point, we were ecstatic with the news that I was officially pregnant (I miscarried six weeks later), and our lowest point was my 3-day hospitalization from a procedure that went horribly wrong.  And there have been many numb days in between.  When we first started trying, we were extremely confident that it wouldn’t take us long to become pregnant.  I’m sure that’s what everyone thinks in the beginning.  And although we remain cautiously optimistic (my husband likes using that phrase), we have had many discussions about what our lives might look like if we aren’t successful:  We’ll travel more!  We can move to another country!  We’ll get a dog!  Or a cat!  And yet.
DSC_4415And yet I can’t help but wonder about everything we will miss out on if it turns out we can’t have kids.  I know, I know, there are pros and cons to both lifestyles.  And part of me is still scared to death to have children.  I have read so many articles about parents being less happy than childless couples, marriages being strained due to kids, and financial stress due to all of the added expenses of raising a child.  And yet.  You can’t fight biology.  I want to have a child.  I was listening to a Slate podcast on parenting last week (iTunes started downloading this podcast onto my computer a few weeks ago and I didn’t question it) and one of the hosts was talking about her nightly routine.  She stated that between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. it was complete chaos in her house.  Dinner has to be made, homework has to be supervised, baths have to be given, stories have to be read, and then bedtime arrives.  As stressful as all of it sounded, I found myself wanting that chaos in my life.  I thought to myself, “What are all of us childless adults doing with our time?”  It all just seemed so pointless without kids in the picture.  Ok, maybe not pointless.  But I definitely have days when it all feels meaningless.  There’s just something about living for another human being that sounds so freeing.  You can’t be stuck in your head all day long when you have a child to take care of.  As Louis C.K. once said, “There’s no time for depression when you have kids.”  Ok, there must be a little time.
DSC_4419Why have I never made homemade Nutella before?  It’s sooooo easy, dear readers!  I have loved Nutella ever since first discovering it while studying abroad in England.  I think I’ve eaten my weight in banana-Nutella crepes over the years.  But guess what?  This version is EVEN BETTER.  Without additives and chemicals masking the flavor, the milk chocolate and hazelnuts are much more intense.  And it doesn’t have that waxy residue that the store-bought stuff has.  With Valentine’s Day coming up, this would make a nice homemade gift.  Your Valentine will be forever grateful.
DSC_4432Homemade Nutella
Adapted from The Splendid Table

1 cup hazelnuts
12 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for about 12 minutes, until they’ve browned a little and the skins are blistered a little.
3.  Wrap them in a kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove as much loose skin as possible. Let cool completely.
4.  Melt the chocolate in a saucepan over gently simmering water.  Stir until smooth.  Let cool completely.
5.  In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they form a paste.  Add the oil, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt and continue processing until the mixture is as smooth as possible.
6.  Add the melted chocolate and blend well.
7.  Place into airtight container.  Mixture will keep at room temperature for 2 weeks.