Category Archives: Favorites

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts

l1050692I let a few months pass in-between posts again.  Like a lot of other people in this country, I have been trying to find healthy outlets for my anger, sadness, and disappointment in the election. I have been doing a decent amount of holiday baking.  One day, I came home from work and just decided to start looking for craft projects online. If nothing else, I figured it would be a nice distraction for me, and a way to channel my feelings into something creative.  My mom, being a very crafty lady, is very happy about this.

Mr. K and I had a pretty rough autumn with both of my grandma’s dying within one month of each other. We flew to Minnesota for both funerals, and in between those trips we moved to a new apartment.  The past few weekends have started to feel “normal” again, as we slowly return to our old weekend routines and attempt to create new ones. We moved to Harlem and we are both very excited about trying new restaurants and discovering all of the little gems that define our new neighborhood.
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I am taking advantage of living in Manhattan again. Before we moved to Astoria, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday was to go to a matinee and/or bring a book along and sit in a coffee shop and read. I did that last weekend and it felt so indulgent. It was a good reminder for me that I need to force myself out of the apartment on the weekends. Being around other people, and just being out in the world observing things, always helps my state of mind.

Word of caution:  if you make these candied nuts, you might not be able to stop eating them. They are incredibly good, with the perfect combination of smoky, salty, and sweet. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
l1050695Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon of hot smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound walnut or pecan halves
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside.
2. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add walnuts, and stir to coat evenly.
3. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.

Peanut Butter Fudge Cookies

L1050494A few years ago, I turned a corner and started enjoying going to the gym. Like a lot of people, I used to dread it. Now, I actually feel better on the days when I’ve gone to the gym. Sadly, I don’t think I’m in much better shape than I used to be (damn you peri-menopause!) but my mental health has improved, thanks to my regular workouts. I love starting my day by pushing myself physically and increasing the dopamine that my 40-year-old brain produces.
L1050483I’m in week 4 of my food regimen, and so far it’s going pretty well. I haven’t felt too terribly deprived, despite the fact that I work at a bakery and smell cakes and cupcakes all day long. I really enjoy creating healthier versions of some of my favorite sweets. That definitely helps ease the pain of not being able to eat sugar. These cookies are a new favorite of mine, and I think most people would be surprised to learn that they are sugar-free, grain-free, and made with just a few simple healthy ingredients.
L1050499Peanut Butter Fudge Cookies

Yield: 16 cookies

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup all-natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place mashed bananas in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add peanut butter, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and sea salt. Mix until well incorporated.
3. Using a medium-sized cookie scoop, place 1″ rounds of batter onto lined baking sheet.
4. Bake for 10 minutes.
5. Let cookies cool completely. Can be refrigerated up to one week or stored in freezer.

Cannellini Beans with Bacon & Spinach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the fact that we got ourselves a cute little tree, I’ve been listening to Christmas music while getting ready in the morning, and I spent an entire weekend (and then some) making edible holiday gifts, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.  It might be partly due to the fact that it’s been insanely warm for this time of year-–it’s been in the 60’s for weeks now!  Ugh.  My husband finds it humorous that I should complain about this, but I stand by it.  I want a little chill in the air, enough so that a winter coat is mandatory.  I want to walk down the streets of NYC, looking through the windows at the whimsical holiday displays while sipping a hot cocoa.   Is this too much to ask??  The world can be a tough place to stomach sometimes, and I feel like December is the one time of year when we are allowed to live in a fantasyland in our heads––dreaming of sugarplums, reindeer, and snowmen.  I am going to try and make the best of it.  At least we’re not housebound due to a huge snowstorm, eh?

You HAVE to make this dish, and soon.  I’ve made it twice in the past month, and I can’t get enough of it.  Not only is it a perfect, comforting winter meal (even if it is warmer than usual), but it’s super-easy and pretty healthy.   It takes all of 10 minutes, and you can make it in one pan.  Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACannellini Beans with Bacon & Spinach
Adapted from The Splendid Table

Yield:  4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces smoky bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 (28-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put a large (approximately 10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and let it get hot.
2. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and shallots, and cook for 30 seconds longer. Add the beans and cook for another 2 minutes.
4. Add the spinach and salt, season with pepper, and cook until the spinach wilts, about 4 minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of water, if needed, to help the spinach along. Serve immediately.

Zucchini Bread Pancakes

DSC_6087I ran a 10K a few weekends ago.  It was the first one I’ve run in 2 1/2 years.  A friend of mine gave me her spot in the race, so I took it as an opportunity to try and push myself.  My workout routine became very slack over the summer months– that and perhaps too many sweets­­– which resulted in my pants being tighter than they should be.   So it felt good to have a goal to work towards.  I did a lot of running intervals on the treadmill at 6 a.m., and subsequently, remembered what it was like to feel euphoric after a good workout.   Things went along pretty smoothly over the course of my 4 weeks of training, even though I knew I might be pushing myself more, and faster, than I should be.   However, on my last long run before the race, I hit a wall.  I don’t know what happened, but I had to stop and walk several times.  My legs felt like lead.  It was a horrible run, and I felt really shitty about it.  In retrospect, I might have been focusing too much on my speed.  Afterword, I tried to reassure myself that a less-than-stellar run was o.k.  Despite my anxiety about the upcoming race, I told myself to focus on going slow and running the entire 10K, and not worry about my finishing time.
DSC_6078I woke up at 5:30 a.m. that Sunday morning and headed into Manhattan.  I tried to shake off any lingering doubts about my recent running performance.  I repeated a mantra:  Slow and steady; just finish.  It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was just coming up, and there was a cool breeze coming off the Hudson River.  I ran what I thought was a super-slow pace.  Many, many people passed me.   I just put my head down and kept running.   I felt really good for the entire race.  I figured if I had enough energy towards the end, I would pick up my pace a bit and try to finish strong.   Indeed, I did.  I ran an 11-minute mile, which is a personal best for me.   I was incredibly proud of myself, and my feeling of euphoria lasted the rest of the day.  I remember thinking that I wanted to hold on to this feeling for as long as possible.  If only we could retrieve feelings the way we can pull up a song to elicit a memory.  I hope to remember that feeling when I’m having a crummy day.  As a reward for the 10K, I treated myself to my favorite pancakes in the city at Johnny’s Luncheonette.
DSC_6081Speaking of pancakes (I didn’t even plan that transition!), these zucchini bread pancakes need to go on your Make Immediately recipe list.  Light and healthy, they also scream, “Fall is finally here!”  And the maple yogurt is the perfect topping on these, as straight up maple syrup would be too sweet for these beauties, in my opinion.  Instead, the tang of the yogurt provides a nice complement to the sweet spices.
DSC_6089Zucchini Bread Pancakes
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yield:  10 to 12 pancakes

2 large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons light brown or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk or 2 tablespoons each of milk and plain yogurt, whisked until smooth
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 1 1/2 medium zucchini)
1 cup all-purpose flour (half can seamlessly be swapped with a whole wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
Butter or oil, for coating skillet

1. In a large bowl, combine eggs, olive oil, sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth. Stir in zucchini shreds.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients into zucchini batter, mixing until just combined.
3. Preheat oven to 200°F and place a baking sheet on a middle rack.
4. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Once hot, melt a pat of butter in pan and swirl it around until it sizzles.
5. Scoop scant 1/4-cup dollops of batter in pan so the puddles do not touch. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook another minute or two, until golden underneath.
6. Transfer pancakes to prepared pan to keep warm as well as ensure that they’re all cooked through when they’re served. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm.

Broccoli Coleslaw with Bacon and Raisins

DSC_6074The summer after my freshman year of college, a new friend came home with me for the weekend before flying home to Colorado.  I remember being very anxious about her staying with my mom and I.   At some point during my senior year of high school, my mom had to sell our house, and we subsequently moved into a small apartment above her hair salon.  As uncomfortable as I was about this, I was also a self-consumed teenager who probably spent more time thinking about superficial things.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my small town didn’t vary a great deal economically:  most people were somewhere between lower middle class and upper middle class.

After I left for college, my family’s economic standing became more apparent to me.  I went to a private liberal arts college, and the majority of kids were from upper middle class and upper class homes.  Although this divide between the kids who came from money and those of us who were there largely due to financial aid was pretty obvious to me, I tried to not let that get in the way of who I became friends with.  The girls on my dorm floor were all great, and we all got along really well for the most part.  However, I was always very aware of the economic differences between us.  Something as simple as, “Who wants to go to McDonalds for dinner tonight?” would make me extremely uncomfortable; I barely had enough money to buy toiletries.  I rarely, if ever, talked about my economic background my first year of college.  I was too ashamed, and too young to know that it did not define me.
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The girl who came home with me that first weekend after our freshman year was a very sweet and sincere person.  She was actually the very first friend I made at college.  I remember walking across the parking lot with her to the freshman orientation and thinking that Colorado was a long ways from Minnesota.  We had gotten to know each other pretty well that first year, and we had had many quintessential college conversations discussing things like our families, our goals, and our fears.  But still, the thought of her seeing where I lived paralyzed me with fear.  I remember spending a lot of time that weekend watching TV with her, simply because I didn’t know what to say and felt like I needed to explain my situation to her, maybe even apologize for not having a more “comfortable” home.  When I look back now, I wish I could tell my 19-year-old self to be proud of where she is from, and that she has nothing to be ashamed of.

I have come to the conclusion that you can add bacon and raisins to any vegetable, and you will have a delicious, and still fairly healthy, meal.  This coleslaw is no exception.  Make it while it’s still warm enough for a cool salad.
DSC_6075Broccoli Coleslaw with Bacon and Raisins
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield:  6 servings

6 slices of bacon (4 oz.)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Sea salt and pepper
1 large head of broccoli (1 1/4 lbs.), cut into bite-size florets and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Set a rack over a baking sheet.  Arrange the bacon slices on the rack in a single layer.  Bake for about 25 minutes, until browned and crisp.  Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the vinegar and sugar; season with salt and pepper.
3.  Add the broccoli, raisins, onion and bacon and toss to coat evenly.
4.  Transfer the coleslaw to a serving bowl.

Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

DSC_5826I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before how I used to despise brussels sprouts when I was a kid.  My mom would simply boil them and serve them to us, as though they were supposed to be edible.  Since then, I have come to love brussels sprouts.  In fact, they are one of my top 5 favorite veggies of all time.   I love their bitter earthiness, and they are so versatile – you can pair them with sweet, sour, spicy, umami, whichever flavor profile you want!  They won’t let you down.  One of my 2015 goals was to make more Asian dishes, because, well, why not, really.  I came across this recipe in a recent Bon Appétit issue, and ripped it out immediately to add to my recipe folder.   Taking a look at my folder reminded me that I need to post on this blog more frequently, lest I want to end up being a recipe hoarder and die by having a box of recipes fall on my head.

This recipe is for all of the brussels sprouts lovers out there, as well as the Asian food lovers.  Enjoy!

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Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Bon Appétit

2 lb. brussels sprouts, halved
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. finely chopped, peeled ginger
2 Tbsp. hot chili paste
6 dried chiles de árbol, lightly crushed
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
1/3 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts

1.  Preheat oven to 425 F degrees.  Toss brussels sprouts and 4 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.
2.  Roast, tossing once, until softened (but not soft) and browned, 20-25 minutes.  Set aside.
3.  Meanwhile, mix cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl until smooth.
4.  Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high.  Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, until garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
5.  Add chili paste and cook, stirring, until darkened, about 2 minutes.  Add chiles, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil; stir in cornstarch slurry.
6.  Simmer, stirring, until sauce coats spoon, about 2 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Toss brussels sprouts with sauce and serve topped with peanuts.

Ricotta-Pea Ravioli with Mushrooms

DSC_5858It feels good to be lounging around my apartment on a Saturday morning again.  I’ve been away the past two weekends, first to Maryland to visit my in-laws and then to Philly to meet up with my mom.  Both trips were enjoyable, but it’s always nice to be able to sleep in on a Saturday morning in your own bed.

I’ve been thinking a fair amount about what life will be like after one (or both) of my parents die.  I’m not someone who dwells on death by any means, so it’s a bit new for me to be spending time pondering this.  Maybe it’s because one of my grandmas was recently moved into a nursing home.  She isn’t doing so well.  My other grandma has been in a nursing home for a few years now.  I know it’s a bit of a leap to go from that to, “Oh my gosh, my parents are next,” but I’m in no way prepared to say goodbye to either of my parents.  One of the interesting things about living far away from them is that they appear to age so much faster.  I typically only see them once a year, and besides the gray hair, etc. that comes with aging, I’ve started to notice a change in the way they carry themselves.  They are not the middle-aged parents that I left behind 12 years ago when I moved to NYC.
DSC_5834I am trying to be more present when I spend time with them.  I want to take it all in, and just enjoy who they are without wanting to change them.  When my husband and I were in Maryland, my mother-in-law agreed to show me how to make a few of her recipes.  One of them was Mr. K’s favorite dish, and another was my favorite dish.  Of course, being an Indian woman, absolutely nothing was written down, so it was a lot of, “About this much cumin, and about this much rice.”  After a few times of asking what the equivalent measurement would be and not getting a straight answer, I finally just started frantically scribbling down everything she showed me in the hopes that I will be able to replicate these recipes with some semblance to the way she makes them.   She is an incredible cook, and what’s more, my husband considers her cooking true comfort food.
DSC_5848Last weekend I was in Philly with my mom.  She brought along some scrapbook cards that we have been sending back and forth to each other to fill out over the last year or so.  One of the questions I had to answer was,  What Were You Good At As A Child?  I put down that I was a good speller, since I remember winning at least one spelling bee as a kid.  But then I answered another card with the same answer apparently, which caused my mom to ask incredulously, “Did you think spelling was the only thing you were good at?” while laughing uncontrollably.   We had one of those wonderful and rare moments where she started laughing, which caused me to start laughing, and then neither of us could stop.  Supposedly, I was good at other things, like math, but I don’t buy it.  She also told me that I was dyslexic and had to see a reading specialist the summer before kindergarten.  From what my mom says, I absolutely adored this specialist, but I have no recollection of her whatsoever.  Isn’t that strange?  Someone who was so helpful to me and brought me so much joy, and yet I have no memory of her.  The brain is so mysterious.  It was great to have a weekend with my mom.  I missed her the minute I hopped on the train back to NYC.
DSC_5849Ricotta-Pea Ravioli with Mushrooms.  It screams spring, doesn’t it?  Using wonton wrappers makes this recipe very approachable.  I love the sweetness of the peas, combined with the creaminess of the ricotta.  If you want more umami flavor and saltiness, which I did, feel free to add some (cooked) bacon to the filling.  The original recipe called for shaved asparagus to be added at the end, but I left it out.  This is yet another recipe that I could not stop eating, and was sad when I had my last serving of it.
DSC_5855Ricotta-Pea Ravioli with Mushrooms
Adapted from Cooking Light

Filling:
2/3 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)
5 teaspoons chipped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
16 ounces (2 1/2 cups) mixed mushrooms (such as shiitake, cremini, and oyster)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Remaining ingredients:
Wonton wrappers
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. To prepare filling, combine the first 8 ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.
2. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet, and put 12 wonton wrappers on baking sheet.  Fill small bowl with 1/4 cup room temperature water.
3. Spoon 1 1/2 teaspoons filling mixture on each wonton wrapper.  Dip finger in water, and moisten all four edges of wonton wrapper, as you go along.  Place another wonton wrapper on top of moistened wrapper, pressing around filling to seal.  Repeat procedure with remaining wrappers and filling mixture to form 24 ravioli.  Cover with dishcloth (to prevent drying out) and set aside.
4. To prepare sauce, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and next 3 ingredients (through mushrooms) to pan; cook 8 minutes or until mushrooms are browned and tender, stirring occasionally. Add broth and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook 4 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Remove from heat; keep warm.
5. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 4 ravioli to each pan; cook 3-4 minutes or until ravioli float to the surface. Remove ravioli from water with a slotted spoon. Place ravioli on a tray, making sure they do not overlap; cover and keep warm.
6. Place 4 ravioli on each of 6 plates; top each serving with 1/2 cup sauce.  Sprinkle each serving with 4 teaspoons cheese.

 

 

Black-Eyed Peas with Coconut Milk and Ethiopian Spices

DSC_5501I have been leveled by PMS this past week, and wanted to write about it since I can’t seem to muster up the desire to write (or think) about anything worthwhile that isn’t maudlin.  In lieu of a typical blog post, I thought I would share a poem with you that I wrote tonight on my commute home:

Hopelessness, negating everything
I was looking forward to yesterday.
It’s a cliché to say every woman
turns into a monster during her time
of the month.  But I feel the change,
right down to my cells.  Nothing
can alleviate this sensation of dread.
I have to ride it out, like a nasty storm
that causes you to lose your bearings.
And know that when this passes, I will
once again look forward to my favorite things.

DSC_5481DSC_5484And one of my new favorite things is this dish.  I’ve never made an Ethiopian dish before, although I really like Ethiopian food.  It’s a Marcus Samuelsson recipe, so I knew it would be delicious.  A word of caution when making this:  wear gloves when handling the chiles!  I failed to do that and spent several hours with my hands writhing in pain.  After several attempts at trying to wash the oils off, I finally succeeded by slathering my hands in vegetable oil, then washing it off with a mixture of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and a splash of dish detergent. Thanks, Google!  That being said, I could eat this every day.
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Black-Eyed Peas with Coconut Milk and Ethiopian Spices
Adapted from Food & Wine

2 cups dried black-eyed peas (12 ounces)
Kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large red onion, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 habanero chile, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons berbere seasoning (see Note)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
2 scallions, thinly sliced

  1.  In a large saucepan, cover the peas with water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat until tender, about 40 minutes.
  2. Add a generous pinch of salt and let stand for 5 minutes, then drain well.
  3.  Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and chile and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the berbere and turmeric and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the coconut milk and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes.
  6.  Add the peas to the sauce and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until the peas are lightly coated, about 10 minutes. Fold in the cilantro and scallions and serve.
Note

Berbere is an Ethiopian ground red chile spice mix. It’s available at specialty food shops and from kalustyans.com.

Kale and Cabbage Slaw with Roasted Shallot Dressing

DSC_5326A few months back, Mr. K and I went to get a second opinion regarding our fertility situation.  We had been through four rounds of IVF over the last 2 ½ years, and we were frustrated about not getting any clear answers from our current fertility doctor.  We braced ourselves in the waiting room.  I pulled out a square of dark chocolate, popped it into my mouth and focused on that until our names were called.  The meeting went by quickly.  The fertility doctor was warm and yet very direct:  we had a 5% chance of success at best if we were to do another round of IVF.

You hear stories all the time about fertility issues tearing couples apart.  They shutdown, pull away from each other, resentment builds, and divorce is imminent.  In our case, strangely enough, I think the opposite happened.  Throughout this horrendous, heartbreaking process we’ve actually grown closer and become stronger as a couple.  On the one hand I think, perhaps we were just lucky–although we both agreed that we wanted to have a child, it didn’t define our relationship or our future together.  And yet I remember having several discussions with my husband about the possibility that we wouldn’t be able to conceive and what that would mean for us.  What would our future look like?  What would give our lives meaning?  Could we still be happy?  Over the last year or so, as we considered this outcome to be more of a possibility, we decided we would use this experience as fuel to lead full and significant lives.  We will travel so much more!  All over the world!  Buy a home in Tuscany while our friends tend to their screaming toddlers!
DSC_5311As we walked home from our appointment, I turned to Mr. K and asked him how he was feeling now that we knew for sure.  I was prepared for him to be sad.  Of the two of us, he felt more strongly about having children.  He turned to me and said, “Actually, kind of relieved.  Now we know for sure.”  And with those words, 2 ½ years of hormonal mood swings, countless painful injections, and a nightmare hospitalization all melted away.  I also felt relieved.  And it felt so euphoric to be so relieved!  In fact, I became so giddy about our news that I started to question how our lives might have went had we actually been able to have children:  we would be raising a child until we were in our late 50’s!  We immediately began talking about what we wanted this next year to look like.  We were ecstatic that we had come out the other side, thrilled to be with each other.

When I first came across this recipe, I knew it had potential to be delicious, but I was focused more on the healthiness of it.  I was in dire need of a salad post-Christmas gluttony, and I thought this would do the trick.  Well, I ate this every day for 10 days straight.  That’s how good it is.  The roasted shallot dressing, in particular, is magical.
DSC_5316Kale and Cabbage Slaw with Roasted Shallot Dressing
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

3 cups diced butternut squash
1 tbsp. olive oil
pinch of salt, smoked paprika and cinnamon

2 bunches Tuscan kale
1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 small red onion
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup grated parmesan
3/4 cup toasted pecan pieces

Roasted Shallot Dressing
2 small or 1 large roasted shallot*
handful fresh chopped chives
1/4-1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. each sea salt and ground pepper

*Roast a shallot like you would a head of garlic.  Trim the end, toss it (skin on) in a little olive oil and pinch of salt, wrap it in foil and place in oven for 45 minutes until softened and caramelized.  Time will vary by size of the shallot(s).  Remove to cool to the touch before squishing it out of its skin.

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the butternut cubes with the olive oil, salt, smoked paprika and cinnamon to coat.  Spread in an even layer and bake for 20 minutes until just tender but not mushy.  Set aside to cool completely.
3.  In a blender or food processor, mix all the dressing ingredients together until smooth.
4.  Stem the kale and chop it ultra thin.
5.  Using a mandolin or knife, shave or chop the red cabbage and onion.  Collect these items in a large salad bowl.
6.  Add the raisins, parmesan and pecans, drizzle desired amount of dressing and toss to coat.  The kale and cabbage can handle sitting in the dressing for 10 minutes before serving.

Mushrooms with Chestnuts and Thyme

DSC_5299I went to a book reading in my neighborhood the other night.  It was one of those bracingly cold evenings where you find yourself walking faster simply to seek warmth indoors.  The author was talking about identity and how we all have different personas that we wear depending on our surroundings.  He told the story of going off to college and wanting to hide his Queens accent because he desperately wanted to fit in with his more well-off peers.  Similarly, once he returned home from college he discovered that he was attempting to mask his “uppity” college vocabulary and newfangled accent so as to not feel like a fraud amongst his family and high school friends.

You hear so much chatter these days around being “authentic”, but what does that mean?  I think we carry all of our experiences with us, and that all of our identities, or personas, are equally authentic.  Indeed, they enrich our lives if we allow them to.  Of course, we give different weight to different experiences we’ve had, but they all matter.  I love the idea that human beings are constantly changing and evolving.  That depending on how curious you are and open to new thoughts and ideas, you can truly expand your world.  Now that I’ve lived in NYC for almost 12 years, I am a very different person from when I first moved here.  Back then, I wanted to hide my “Minnesotan-ness” and put on airs that made me appear more sophisticated.  Living in New York has seeped into my bones and transformed my sense of self.  Now I find myself thinking nostalgically about my time in Minnesota and some of the aspects of my personality that I was so quick to shed.
DSC_5272Twelve years ago, I was ashamed of not being as smart as the people around me.  I thought I should be more worldly and culturally astute.  I was only in my late 20’s and yet I felt like I had wasted time during my youth and needed to catch up on so many things.  Instead of accepting myself for where/who I was, I berated myself and frequently felt like an outsider amongst my New York friends and co-workers.  If I could do it all over again, I would be kinder to myself and allow the vulnerability and curiosity that is inevitable at such a young age.  I would embrace what I did not, could not know and be open to asking questions without embarrassment.  It is an identity that I should not have been ashamed of.
DSC_5285Now, when I return to Minnesota I often times feel the need to suppress aspects of myself that certain family members might not understand.  I know this is universal, but I sometimes revert back to the person I was growing up under my parent’s roof.  Although I feel somewhat like an outsider there, I’m more accepting of who I’ve become and try to allow the discomfort that lies in the space between who I was then and who I am now.
DSC_5289I had a few bags of chestnuts left over from Thanksgiving that I wanted to use up, and this recipe was exactly what I was looking for.  It’s hearty enough to stand alone as a vegetarian meal, or can also be a delicious side dish.  I love mushrooms, and the earthiness of the mushrooms pairs really well with the sweetness of the chestnuts.  The marcona almonds sprinkled on top is completely optional, but I like the crunch it adds.
DSC_5293Mushrooms with Chestnuts and  Thyme
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield:  10 servings

6 tablespoons (3/4 cup) butter
8 large shallots, sliced (about 2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs. assorted wild mushrooms (such as stemmed shiitake, crimini and oyster), sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup Madeira (or substitute a full-bodied red wine)
1 7.25-ounce jar roasted peeled whole chestnuts, halved (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup whipping cream
Chopped fresh chives
Marcona almonds, roughly chopped

1.  Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, deep non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
2.  Add shallots and sauté until tender and golden, about 6 minutes.  Add garlic and stir 30 seconds.
3.  Add remaining 3 tablespoons butter and stir until melted.  Add mushrooms; sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Sauté until tender and brown, about 10 minutes.
4.  Add thyme and stir 1 minute.  Add Madeira and simmer until almost evaporated, about 1 minute.
5.  Add chestnuts and whipping cream and simmer until cream thickens and coats mushroom mixture, about 1 minute.
6.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with chives.