Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Farro-Butternut Squash-Pecan-Apple-Kale Salad

I bought some farro three years ago—maybe four? I used to love this farro salad I would get from the Whole Foods salad bar. It had butternut squash and pecans in it and white miso paste, among other things I’ve forgotten from looking at the ingredient list. But for some reason making this salad always seemed too hard. How am I going to cut up butternut squash into tiny pieces to roast when it’s still raw? I have a hard enough time cutting that thing in half, let alone PEELING it and dicing it up into teeny pieces. And what would I do for the dressing? And how exactly do you cook farro? It all seemed too hard and too much. But when I checked out the new Fairway market this week, I saw halved, peeled butternut squash for $1.99 a pound, which is only a little more than I pay for the unprepared stuff. I had wanted to do a winter go-through-the-pantry thing, and farro had been in the back of my mind. I picked it up. Last night I made the butternut squash-pecan-caramelized onion-farro salad, and it was insanely delicious. E teased me, taking many bites and drawing out his comment, until finally he told me it was delicious. Except I had figured that out by that point since he had already taken ten bites in short succession. This is actually a surprisingly easy thing to make—much less difficult than the psychological baggage I had made me think.


Caramelize the onions. Chop up a few onions (food processor helps) and start caramelizing them in a pan. This takes 30-40 minutes over low heat and with a bit of oil in the pan. You can walk away, just stir occasionally until they get super reduced and brown. You’ll only need about ¾ cup of caramelized onions, so refrigerate or freeze the rest to use in other delicious recipes.
Roast the squash. Dice half a peeled and seeded butternut squash, and toss with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. Stick in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until the squash is tender and looks good to eat.

Cook the farro. I did maybe 3+ cups of water to a heaping cup of farro and 1+ tsp of salt. First I boiled the water, then added the farro, though I think you could add it at the beginning. I checked on it at 30 minutes then let it go close to 40 minutes. It should be nice and chewy. When it’s ready, dump it into a colander, then back into the pan. Then add a couple spoonfuls of white miso paste (2 tablespoons) and some pepper and a glug or two of nice extra virgin olive oil.

Roast apples. I roasted a couple of chopped apples in the oven, but then switched it to the pan because they weren’t going fast enough. I also sautéed some leftover kale I had around. I think spinach would also work nicely here. Only a cup or so of raw vegetable, you don’t need much.

Toast pecans. They need 10 or so minutes in the oven.

As these things got ready, I mixed the farro and butternut squash together, added the pecans, then the kale and apples. And let me tell you , it was insanely good. It might be one of my best dishes yet.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year in Review

I'm stealing this idea from Laura. Thank you! I feel like I've done so much more when I see it on paper. Many thanks to my Google Calendar records to remind me of everything!

Did some cool pieces at work, including getting to go backstage at the Met Opera, some pieces on new startups and tech stuff that gets me excited, and interviewed some really interested indie directors and the director of one of my favorite franchises, The Hunger Games. I did a couple pieces that I not only pitched, but required 4+ interviews, which challenged me. There was one that I thought I completely blew, where post-Sandy our phones weren’t working properly and I let that distract me and wasn’t properly prepared, but I think that was an aberration that reminded me just how far I’ve come as a reporter.

This was a year of amazing weekend visitors and weekend trips:
My mom visited twice, in March and in November

Laura visited me for the weekend and we had a great time exploring New York together. And we ran and I was sore for three days after.

My friend Norah visited for a weekend, and Eric’s photographer friend. Both showed me different sides of the city.

Went to Vermont in September for a weekend of hiking and fresh air

Went to Hudson, New York, in October, where I fell in love with the charming architecture, croissants, and the totally different modernist antique stores run by gay men and rich women

Went to my five-year college reunion and had a complete blast. I also drank too much, in memory of my life as a college student, and when I tried to get back into my extremely tall dorm bed on tippy-toe in the middle of the night I set off this excruciating calf cramp that lasted through the end of the next day. I have stocked up on bananas (for potassium!) in anticipation of any drinking tonight. I was also so proud of everything my classmates accomplished—not jealous, which actually seems like the more natural reaction. It just seemed like everyone had a lot of great things going on in their life, had changed and grown and were doing things that sounded really exciting. I think  that, at least for those that attended, a lot of those post-college hiccups had already been figured out. I felt inspired being around everyone.

Went to the beach a lot! Eric and I took a weekend trip to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and another time took the ferry up just for the day. We also went to Long Beach in New Jersey, and the Rockaways. Swimming makes me so happy and I’m glad I got to go so much. Especially because who knows what swimming will be like next year.

Cooked lots of amazing dinners with my boyfriend, and threw lots of dinner parties. My favorite I think was Cinco de Mayo, where we did easy Mexican stuff that didn’t stress me out and made awesome margaritas.

Flying here and there
Went to London in February, where I had great food, learned what it was like to travel in the off-season (it gets dark so early!), stayed at the poshest hotel of my life, where our room was cleaned twice a day, and was completely charmed by British cabbies. I also did sightseeing by myself and enjoyed it, though I think I like traveling with someone else best.

Went to Paris, Amsterdam, and Prague. Saw so much, ate so well, and got to visit the place of my ancestors (I’m half Dutch). Amsterdam was my favorite.

Went to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in September for a work trip and spent the weekend in Chicago with my grandparents and dad. Had some great family time.

Attended my friend Jess’ wedding outside Detroit and got to visit the city, in all its half-demolished and resurgent glory. I got to explore abandoned buildings and had time to go to a corn maze and petting zoo, where I held Polish chickens.

Flew home for Christmas, where I reconnected with an old friend and spent time with my oldest one, Laura. I also got my nature fix via a bald eagle rafting trip.

Health, Fitness, and Friendships
Did an o-k amount of yoga. Did some intense, focused pilates that made me want to explore that more. Next year: more exercise!

Lost 7.5 lbs of my 10-lb goal that I made in May, as of this writing. 

Got a tennis permit and played regularly, including with people I met on craigslist (something scary!)

Participated in our CSA for the third year in a row. I finally conquered a few new ways to make kale, made some acquaintances with neighbors, and ate more veggies without really feeling like I did.

Met some cool people and kept up a commitment with the book club

Saw great concerts, including David Byrne, Foster the People, Neil Young, a jazz place in Prague, a couple hole-in-the-wall places in NYC I need to go back to

Saw over fifty movies for my job. I think 65?

Read a few dozen books, I’d hazard

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2013
Change my job situation. Freelance more.

Make an exercise schedule and stick to it. There is too much randomness in the way I exercise.
Eat more vegetables.

Do things that scare me more. I shy away from risk, but whenever I take them, I feel so rewarded. This year that was sightseeing alone, meeting tennis partners on Craigslist, and going to some scary exercise classes. And maybe reaching out to one person for lunch. I can do so much better! I think risk and variety is what is going to make me grow, so I need to put myself in uncomfortable situations. I also need to make sure I follow through on commitments, pursuing things even if the further I go into something, the worse it will be if I am rejected.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Paris, Ce Soir!

I'm going to Paris tonight!! Work is slow and I'm tired. I had really bad insomnia Monday night and maybe halfish of a normal night of sleep last night. I can't help it! I'm so excited and looking forward to my trip, but that has the flip side of making me all nervous and worried about tiny details that are outside of my control. The mercy of planes, trains, subways, and the important little things that can derail a whole experience. Just talking about that is stressing me out!

With E gone, I've been trying to mainline veggies from our CSA (community supported agriculture). I love the CSA (third year running) and this year we're getting lots more stuff. The other day I just ate two plain cucumbers, no nothing on them. Just because they were that delicious. It was a kind of cool feeling.

So here are a couple of successful CSA-inspired recipes (don't get me into my failures, at least just yet.) Try them! (I'm looking at you Laura!)

Awesome better-than-Greek Salad

A mix of red leaf or romaine lettuce with the bitter-y salad greens they give me at the CSA
A small cucumber
Tomatoes if you're oh-so lucky
feta cheese
sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (used the Trader Joe's brand)
salami, sliced and sliced so it's teeny
basil leaves, chopped

Then, make a homemade salad dressing, because YUCK! the jarred ones are nasty and no one even knows it anymore because we just grow up on them!! One, I cannot stand to eat 25 salads with the same exact dressing, and Two, once you start making your own salad dressing you just can't go back (except maybe to the super-gourmet brands they sell in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods. We like the blue cheese dressing there because it actually has blue cheese in it. We bought the Marie Callendar's one at another store and shit separated and the main ingredient wasn't blue cheese, but canola oil. You get what you pay for.). A year ago our office ordered pizza and salad and I had to throw away my salad because I tried to use one of those dressing packets, and it tasted SO SWEET and nasty. I was proud of my palate for saying no to corn syrup

I make them up, but generally you want 5tbsp of nice olive oil to 2 tbsp of acid (lemon juice, balsamic, apple cider vinegar). You add an emulsifier, like a spoonful of dijon mustard. Then season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, some herbs in the garden, or dried if it's winter, and maybe something sweet like a bit of OJ you have in the fridge or jam or honey or maple syrup. VOILA!

The Greek one had olive oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard, a handful of herbs, and I think I added some worchestershire to give it some oomph because I wasn't feeling it...maybe some white miso paste too? Well goodness I wish I remembered because once I immersion blendered that baby it was super green and awesome. (Another thing, get an immersion blender!)

I'm sick of recipe-writing for now but I also made two summer squash soups. The first I chilled and tasted more raw-y (even though veggies were cooked) and the second I roasted the squash and onions and holy moly that was among the top soups I have ever made. The trick to these two, again, is the immersion blender. It's so much easier to eat your veggies when they're pureed. I think I will be eating lots more veggies if I keep this up!!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Notes on London trip

Ok, the last time I posted was ten weeks ago. Time for some updates.

I went to London in February.

The trip was so great. I didn’t expect the city to be as different as it was since Americans came from England, and because we all speak English. But honestly, sometimes I couldn’t even understand what people were saying! Usually that would happen when I would ask what beers they had on tap (they’re not always marked) and they would say all these unintelligible proper nouns over the din of the bar. I would just look at them with this total uncomprehending expression on my face. Then they would give me a sample.

I actually got into drinking beer at a warmer temperatures. And how I loved cider! Cider in America is often really sweet and barely alcoholic at all, so it makes me feel really full, bloated, and sober. The cider in England was stronger, really light and refreshing, and slightly more alcoholic (4-5% I think). It made a difference.

I loved the cabbies! I am so used to half the NYC cabbies having no idea where they’re going, that I am on edge every time I take a cab. On New Year’s Eve I was going home alone and the cabbie missed the exit off the FDR! It was so annoying! Or they just go the only way they know, which is longer, more expensive, and often involves lots of traffic. But the English cabbies have to take the “knowledge,” a test that takes years of studying, and know every single intersection. Even in the age of GPS, this is pretty helpful.

The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey were my favorite attractions. Westminster Abbey was surprisingly secular for a cathedral. They have pavestones dedicated to Isaac Netwon and Charles Darwin, who as I recall were not particularly embraced by most churches at the time. Also, all the kings and queens are buried there, so it feels more political than religious. It’s quite awe-inspiring to see where Queen Elizabeth is resting, Bloody Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, etc. And it’s where Kate Middleton was married. SO topical!

Some people say the Tower of London is really Disney, but it’s actually the real deal. All the towers and castles that I’ve seen up to the point were stealing from the Tower. I guess if I explore Europe more there will be plenty more (possibly more remote) castles to see, but this one is in the center of it all. What’s crazy about it is that there must be ten different styles of architecture. New styles were built onto old styles. It’s the equivalent of adding a split-level house to a classic colonial, then some modern building on top of that. Wow.

I loved the gastropubs. We had the most amazing meals—a “pumkin” soup that tasted so clean and vegetably, not creamy. On the other end, the most buttery “mash” you’ve ever known. Duck salad, leg of lamb, fish of chips with chunky, homemade tartar sauce. And lord, sticky toffee pudding. That stuff was tops.

English people love mushrooms and tomatoes. I ordered steak one night and it came with roasted tomato and the most delicious mushrooms. You get the same two sides with an English breakfast. Mmmm. We went out for Indian one night with E’s co-workers and they ordered mushroom rice as a side. It was just rice with mushrooms mixed in, but exactly my kind of thing. The English have some things figured out!

I feel like I’m a pretty good pedestrian. I can navigate myself all right in the West Village, the most confusing neighborhood in Manhattan. But no. Our skills were no match for London. The first night, we spent an hour and twenty minutes looking for a restaurant in our garden. We knew we were in the general vicinity, but every single road we turned onto was called some version of Onslow Gardens. We asked for directions from a few people, but no one knew where the place (Anglesa Arms) was. We asked this older man, then continued lost. After a moment, he actually chased us down with a copy of “London A to Z” and helped us look up the street. Even then, we saw the road name and some sign that said “opposite,” which we interpreted to mean the wrong thing. So we crossed the street again, and thank goodness we finally found the place and got the only table for two available. We had actually been just half a block from this restaurant! When we looked to turn left, the road was called Onslow Gardens, then it changed its name HALFWAY DOWN THE BLOCK. I wasn’t aware that you could change a road’s name when you are halfway down it. But you can in London!

London’s Tube is so much nicer than the NYC subway, too, though it closes at midnight. That’s a pretty big downside, but it also means they have much more time for maintenance and cleaning. All the trains have countdown clocks, which I am a huge fan of. And when the train is stopped on the tracks, they actually give you specific reasons for why it’s down. Like, someone pulled the emergency brake in the train ahead. We should be moving shortly. So sorry (all done in the most awesome British accent). They apologize for everything! In comparison, we get some computerized announcement or a vague reason. I like the specificity.

E is going back to London next week—so I’ll give him the extra pounds and pence I had left in my wallet.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Books of 2011

According to GoodReads, I read FORTY books this year! Woo-hoo. I think that's pretty good for a working girl with no summer and winter vacation--although, that being said, I read a lot more throughout the year now that I don't have hundreds of pages of school reading to do a week.

Some of my favorites

#1 Unbroken. I gave this to my parents for Christmas. I have flashbacks of this book all the time.
#2 Shadow Divers - Scuba divers exploring an extremely dangerous, deep U-Boat wreck off the American coast.
Isaac's Storm - About a devastating hurricane in Galveston, Texas, that the fairly new National Weather service failed to predict.
What the Dog Saw - collection of Malcolm Gladwell essays

Best Fiction
#1 What Alice Forgot - Laura, I know you don't read fiction but you should read this. It's stunning and poignant and brought me to tears several times. And it describes relationships and life stages with such accuracy. If this weren't on such a girly subject it would be winning a lot more awards.
#2 Cutting for Stone - Took awhile to get into and only really got into it the second time I picked it up. But once you're involved, it is amazing. And there are NO other authors writing books like this right now - about Indian doctors working in Ethiopia in the '60s (at first) and the dictators and wars and struggles there. I love medical stuff and to hear a surgeon writing about this stuff not as a dry medical text but as a talented author? With the ability to talk about the emotions of the surgeon (fear, accomplishment, athletic prowess, grief, hope), the details of the operation? The human body described as only someone who has actually been inside the body can? Whoa, whoa, whoa.
The Namesake
The Hunger Games trilogy - LOVE!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Back from South of the Border!

E & I got back on Tuesday from Mexico. The trip was great! Like any of our trips, it had its ups and downs, but it was great to explore another area. Having been to Mexico before, the trip didn't feel as foreign as going to Costa Rica or Panama. However, the Yucatan region is great (except for the water...why can Costa Rica and Panama have clean water but the Yucatan fails so miserably when there is WAY more tourism in that area? Apparently the hotel zone in Cancun is okay but we didn't venture there). What I liked best (and why I really recommend the area!) is that it has all the awesomeness of a beach vacation along with cenotes, underground sinkhold caves, along with Mayan ruins. We also had some great snorkeling, which you don't really get on the Pacific side.

A few highlights:
This hotel was amazing! I booked it last minute after our original reservation was cancelled because the hotel was subject to a land grab (shady titles are apparently the norm in the region). Miraculously, the BEST cabana was available, #1. It was the only one that had a full ocean view. We fell asleep to the sound of the waves every night underneath a mosquito net. It was wonderful! Electricity is also in short supply in the area (ours was solar-powered) so we only had power from 5pm-10pm. It was actually really cool to live that way! We would have a last swim right before the sun went down around 5, shower, then go get dinner. We would come back, look at the stars, then go to bed right around when the lights went out. Then at 6am or so, the light starts streaming in and you start to stir. Maybe by 7 you get out of bed, have a morning swim, relax, and then have the delicious, included breakfast at 8. I am NOT a morning person so it was really cool to see how naturally your body responds to the light and dark if you don't have electricity or TV to stimulate you after hours. We also stayed there during a new moon, so the stars were super bright. E brought out his Android and we used Google Sky to identify the constellations. It was magical. Nice, quiet beach.

We ended up changing our plans and coming back to the area for the last two nights. The water was exceptionally calm, eventually like glass. When we had been there before the waves were extremely strong, full of seaweed, and actually a bit intimidating. I went boogie boarding on this beach that was now wave-free! I liked being able to experience the different moods of the same ocean.

It ended up being really worth it to come back to the Cabanas (even though we didn't get as good of a cabin the second time) because sea turtles hatched! Even though it's past the season, the hotel manager had kept some nests in coolers waiting for them to hatch. Two nights in a row, we had people stand at the water with flashlights and released the turtles into the ocean. Feeling a little creature like that in my hands was so, so cool. I felt a little guilty because I have been so conditioned not to touch endangered species, etc., before realizing that in this case, I was the "handler," the person in charge of making sure the creature got into the ocean. Some of the turtles starting moving right away toward the ocean. Others were a little stunned and didn't move at all. I was really worried one of them was hurt but it turned out the little one just needed some time to adjust before he started swimming toward the water.

Back to the breakfast--I love fresh-squeezed orange juice, which was served every day at breakfast. All over Mexico, this is considered the norm, not a luxury. It is so delicious. It tastes clean, a little more watery, and it's so refreshing. OJ containers, in contrast, always have a slightly syrupy or more powerful flavor. Even fresh-squeezed in containers doesn't taste the same as Mexican OJ. Mmmm.

Ok, now more briefly:
My favorite Mayan ruin. More chill than Chichen Itza with some impressive, unrestored sights. We climbed a really high pyramid and biked to all the different sections of the ruins.

In the Si'an Kaan biopreserve, this hotel was in the middle of nowhere. We befriended one guy who had been there a few times before and this really great family, since we were taking all our meals together. And I learned how to play Cribbage! Also, this family was just SO lovely--three gorgeous blond kids, and we celebrated the Mom's 40th birthday. On our last day, the boy comes over to me and I see he's walking with a limp. I say, 'Hey, guy, did you step on something? You okay?' Then his Dad, who's nearby, says 'You want to tell her, or me?' And this boy tells me that he had a stroke when he was in his mommy's belly and it affects how he walk and his eye. I was stunned and had no idea what to say, only that I didn't want to say what I was thinking, which was that he was brave and he's been through a lot. I was worried that it would turn into some patronizing statement when I've never had to deal with anything like that. Instead, I think I said, 'Wow,' and I don't know what else, just processing. And I told his Dad and him I had no idea, that this was the first I noticed. 'He's come a long way,' the Dad said, and that made me feel like I had at least made some kind of appropriate response. Then later tells me the Dad has colon cancer--he had finished chemo and that was part of the reason the family was taking a three-week vacation. It was crazy to see this family, perfect from the outside, was going through so much. It really blew me away.

We also went inland to Merida for a couple nights. We stayed in a lovely hotel but weren't such a big fan of the hot, crowded, diesel-fumed environment of the city. E says "no more Central American cities." We left a day early for Playa del Carmen, which is an hour south of Cancun and supposedly more "European." It was very, very touristy. There is a huge main pedestrian strip with tons of restaurants, bars, and shops, a few avenues away from the beach. It felt like San Diego or something--not Mexcio. E took issue with everyone being all dressed up, in heels etc. He prefers a more chill environment. We checked out and headed down to Tulum instead the next day. On the plus side, we ate breakfast at this French place and probably had the best almond croissant and "manzana tarte" in all of Mexico. After so much Mexican food that was a nice respite.

Another highlight was renting a car! Though it ended up being quite expensive because of all the insurance add-ons (80% of our cost was insurance!), it helped free us from the crowds and made sure we were on no one's schedule but our own. We also went to smaller, more out-of-the-way spots. E was a great driver! I hate the rules now about not letting anyone else drive unless you pay extra--I only drove in the biopreserve, partly so I wouldn't get carsick because the roads are filled with potholes--like it's actually the worst road I've ever been on.

I caught a cold on my way back and missed work Wednesday and Friday--now I'm leaving two Fridays from now for Seattle! Turns out I miss my work Christmas party, but oh well. I have stuff scheduled right now for seven out of the ten worknights (screenings, plays, parties, etc) and probably will end up doing something else too--CRAZY!! The end of the year is coming too fast now!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Favorite Things of Fall

  • Weekend breakfasts on the balcony with a fleece on
  • Unpasteurized pineapple orange ginger juice
  • Bagels with lox
  • Getting rid of things! I have a Salvation Army pick-up appointment set for a couple weeks from now, and I can't wait to de-clutter
  • Cooking over the weekend! Yesterday we made yummy tacos for a couple friends who came over and a giant cheesecake (can't wait to try it!). Today I'm planning on making a butternut squash soup (with leftovers for work lunch) and cranberry nut bread with the first cranberries of the season
  • When a DJ keeps on playing song after amazing song. I went out spur of the moment last night (after the tacos) and ended up in this scene-y kind of bar that was playing amazing Top 40 mixes. We're talking about mixing Miley Cyus' "Party in the USA" with Biggie, so the song went back and forth between the two for a few minutes. The DJs were so cute and had this little dance they did to a Lady Gaga song. Haven't had that much fun going out in awhile
  • Having exciting things to look forward to! Including going to Chicago for my cousin's wedding, going to Vermont next weekend, and the Greenwich Village Halloween parade!
  • "Boardwalk Empire" and Ken Burns' "Prohibition" (starting tonight). I think I may need to shell out for one of those pre-made flapper costumes this year.
  • Going to see 9/11 memorial today with our state assemblyman.
  • Happy, lazy weekends
  • I asked for a raise at work, something I have been chickening out about doing for months
  • Fall weather that's still warm enough to let you walk home late at night in bar attire without freezing, and not having to carry a heavy winter coat in with you to the bar
  • Magazines! I am still having my love affair with "New Yorker," and was going through withdrawals when my magazine was four days late. Also "The Atlantic" and "Wired" are so smart and it's nice not to read everything online for once, especially because I don't like screens for any pre-bedtime reading. And again: so, so, so smart and interesting
  • Mindy Kaling: read this. I can't wait to read her memoir when it comes out!
  • My boyfriend!