Archive | August, 2013

A Spicy Tofu Eggplant Stir-Fry: A Meat-Eater Meets his Match

30 Aug

You know, I should really make a holiday to celebrate my dear friend, Jessie.  Upon reflection, I realized that without Jessie, I may not have met some really important and incredible people in my life.  One of these incredible people, besides my husband, is Stef, the guest author of this post.  Stef is one of those people who is the full package — outrageously funny, kind, smart, and beautiful.  I remember asking her years ago how she met her husband (at the time, they were just dating) and I remember loving this love story.   I’m sure you will too.  Shabbat shalom, Whit xoxox

P.S.  Follow Stef and Matt’s journey as new Israelis here.

 

 

When I asked my husband which food he thought most represented our love, he answered without hesitation: tofu.

On Our Wedding Day in Jerusalem

On Our Wedding Day in Jerusalem

Like Whitney, I met my husband, Matt, in the holy city of Jerusalem, but it took us a bit longer to realize we were meant to be. On my first day at the Pardes Institute in 2006, where I planned to study for 3 years, my closest friend turned to me and asked me who I thought was cute. I immediately picked out my future husband, despite the fact that he was wearing cut-off hospital pants, a “wife-beater” tank-top, and mismatched red and blue converse high tops. It took us a few weeks to actually have a conversation (although my husband doesn’t remember it) and a couple months until we became friends. Since he was in a relationship with someone else at the time and I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship myself, we continued to be just friends for the remainder of the year. In the first days of our friendship, Matt came over to my apartment for dinner. That year also happened to be the year I reintroduced meat into my diet after many year of vegetarianism. While I had begun eating some meat, I still preferred to (and generally still do) cook vegetarian. When Matt came over for dinner that night early on in our friendship, I told him I was making tofu. A look of uncertainty and fear washed over his face. He admitted to not having a lot of “experience” eating tofu and to not liking it so much, but agreed to try it nonetheless. I don’t think I could truthfully say that fell in love with tofu that night, but he did eat it and that’s a good first step.
At our LA Wedding Reception

At our LA Wedding Reception

Fast-forward to today: we have been married for four years and tofu is a still a staple part of our diet. How did that happen? The simple answer (to both the questions of marriage and tofu) is love.
After our year of friendship, Matt moved back to the US and I began my second year of school in Jerusalem. Now, with both of us available and thousands of miles between us, we decided it was the right time to start dating. This was confirmed the week I came back to the States for a friend’s wedding. We knew we wanted to see each other before committing to a long-distance relationship, so I planned a detour on my trip to meet him for a weekend. Unfortunately, the only time such a visit could be arranged was over the holiday of Yom Kippur, a 25-hour fast day where we are meant to focus on repentance and atonement. It would have to do. Even though we spent much of the visit davening (praying) in shul (synagogue) on separate sides of the mehitzah, it was enough for us to know that we were ready to do this. We survived the distance and the following year Matt got a job in Israel so we could spend my 3rd year of school together.
Finally in the same place, we began to share many more meals together and I began to learn about all the foods Matt did or did not like. On the list of “not-likes” was, you guessed it, tofu. To add insult to injury, he also claimed to not like spicy food, something that characterized almost everything I ate. Here’s where love comes into play. Despite his specific dislikes (those previously mentioned, among others), Matt always tried every single dish I cooked. And to both our surprise, he liked more things than he thought he did. If you ask him, Matt will still claim that anything I make with tofu would taste better with chicken, but he eats it and, dare I say, he enjoys it. At the end of my final year of school, we got married in Jerusalem (at a vegetarian restaurant) on Tu B’Av, the Jewish day of love, and the rest is history.
Falling in Love in Jerusalem

Falling in Love in Jerusalem

Over the course of our marriage, my husband has grown to like other previously disliked foods as well, including spicy food. I still prefer to cook vegetarian during the week (we save the meat for Shabbat) and this Spicy Tofu Eggplant Stir-fry is one of our go-to meals. If you don’t like spicy food, heads up, this is a real mouth burner.

Spicy Tofu Eggplant Stir-fry (adapted from a “learn to cook vegetarian” book I had in college)

What

2 Tbsp Cooking Oil (you can choose: canola, olive, coconut, etc.)
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Tbsp (or more) Fresh Ginger, minced
1-2 Tbsp Chinese Chili Garlic Sauce (the hero of this dish)
1 block of Tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes, drained
1 small or 1/2 large Eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes, pre-steamed if you like softer eggplant
Any other vegetable of your choice: red pepper cut into strips, mushrooms, zucchinni, spinach, water chestnuts, etc.
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
2 Tsp Corn Starch
1/2 cup water
2-3 Green Onions, diced

How

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add Chinese chili sauce (adjust for taste) and simmer for another minute. Add the drained tofu cubes and cook for a few minutes until the tofu absorbs the garlic mixture. Add the eggplant and stir-fry until cooked through.
Working with Tofu

Working with Tofu

Mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, corn starch and water in a separate bowl. At this point add any additional vegetables and then the sauce mixture to the pan. Cook until vegetables reach desired tenderness. In the last minute, add green onion.
DSCF2872
Serve over brown rice and enjoy!
Spicy Love

Spicy Love

Recipe Round-Up – 12 Gluten-Free Sides and Salads — Holiday Menu-Planning

27 Aug
Gluten-Free Holiday Menu-Planning

Gluten-Free Holiday Menu-Planning

So . . . don’t panic, but Rosh Hashanah is a week away! AHHH (insert panic here)!!! Thank Gd, we will be traveling to Asheville, NC to spend the week and the holiday with my mama. And, as a special treat, my brother and his family will be joining us as well. I’m so FRIKKIN’ excited. Anywho, my sweet nephew has been on a gluten-free diet for roughly a year now, give or take a few months. He was having some behavioral struggles that were uncommon for him so after doing analysis of his behavior, keeping food charts, and trying various diets, etc., what my sister-in-law and brother realized is that gluten was having a really negative effect on him. The results of taking gluten out of his diet has been pretty phenomenal and therefore, we want to accommodate this in our very first gluten-free Rosh Hashanah! So, since I was on the hunt for delicious gluten-free recipes that could either be made on the spot or defrosted for the holiday, I bring to you a gluten-free recipe round-up of salads and sides. You’ll find 12 delicious and drool-inducing recipes in the list below. Of course, these recipes could fill the menu for any occasion but in the meantime, I hope they help you in your own holiday menu-planning, for whatever that holiday may be. I wish you a L’shanah Tovah (Happy New Year), a happy Tuesday, and a happy week!!

Spaghetti Squash with Veggie Marinara from Jewhungry

Spaghetti Squash with Veggie Marinara from Jewhungry

Spaghetti Squash with Veggie Marinara

Apple Butter Nut Squash Gratin from Kitchen Treaty

Apple Butter Nut Squash Gratin from Kitchen Treaty

Apple, Butternut Squash, and Leek Gratin

Chutney-glazed Stuffed Acorn Squash by the Gluten-Free Doctor

Chutney-glazed Stuffed Acorn Squash by the Gluten-Free Doctor

Chutney-glazed Stuffed Acorn Squash

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad from Wine and Glue

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Mango Lime Confetti Slaw

Mango Lime Confetti Slaw from Healthy Slow Cooking

Mango Lime Confetti Slaw

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Salad from Alida's Kitchen

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Salad from Alida’s Kitchen

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Salad

Zucchini Tater Tots from Cupcakes and Kale Chips

Zucchini Tater Tots from Cupcakes and Kale Chips

GlutenFree Zucchini Tater Tots

Red Quinoa and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios from What Jew Wanna Eat

Red Quinoa and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios from What Jew Wanna Eat

Red Quinoa and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios

Grilled Cauliflower with Basil and White Balsamic Vinegar from Everyday Maven

Grilled Cauliflower with Basil and White Balsamic Vinegar from Everyday Maven

Grilled Cauliflower with Basil and White Balsamic Vinegar

Fennel, Orange & Avocado Salad with Carrot Dressing Recipe from The Hungry Goddess

Fennel, Orange & Avocado Salad with Carrot Dressing Recipe from The Hungry Goddess

Fennel, Orange & Avocado Salad with Carrot Dressing Recipe

Roasted Potato Salad with Crème Fraîche Sauce by Farm Fresh Feasts

Roasted Potato Salad with Crème Fraîche Sauce by Farm Fresh Feasts

Roasted Potato Salad with Crème Fraîche Sauce

Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes from The Overtime Cook

Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes from Tales of an Overtime Cook

Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Mommy Blogs and Meatballs: A Blogdentity Crisis

24 Aug

This week was an interesting one. A rollercoaster of emotions, if you will. It was the first week back at school with the kiddos so I was up at 6ish every morning and at work by 7ish, which meant I was gone before Siona was awake. I was exhausted but running on buckets of coffee and adrenaline. Though it’s my 3rd year in my job as a school counselor, this was my first time at the first week of school in my job. The first year I was still in my original position as Student Life Director and the second year I was on maternity leave. I was nervous and overwhelmed. I also took over as ‘senior’ school counselor in the Middle School, which didn’t help my anxiety. I was trying to train our new counselor while tending to the needs of my students and colleagues. And though this past week I survived on adrenaline, iced coffee and water, I thrived on being able to be there for my students; being able to be there for one of my new 6th graders who sobbed for over an hour in my office in fear of Middle School and my 8th graders who are already freaking out about high school and college.

One of the many ridiculous things I do for my students -- dressing up as Effie from the Hunger Games for Color War back when I was pregnant.

One of the many ridiculous things I do for my students — dressing up as Effie from the Hunger Games for Color War back when I was pregnant.

While I was kicking a** and taking names in my role as school counselor, this blog wasn’t fairing so well and it was bringing me down. This summer allowed me a bit more freedom to be present for this blog, which made me really happy. I finally was able to interview my friend, Zak the Baker. I made the fried chicken recipe that had been living in my head and I finally was able to write down my own love story. It felt wonderful to have the time to do all that. But this past week brought on the realization that, once again, my free time is extremely limited. And then, on Thursday morning, I received an email in my inbox from a blog I follow (or, now, used to follow). The blogger is an incredible writer and, in my estimation, would fall into the category of ‘mommy blogger’. She writes about her adventures with her young daughters set against the back drop of Montana. Her Instagram account should be sponsored by the visitors bureau of Montana, the pictures are that incredibly beautiful. But that’s besides the point. This post was about her living her dream of quitting her job so that she could be home with her girls. As beautiful and ethereal as this post was, it also enraged me a bit. I felt badly about having these feelings of anger. And, as I like to remind my students, no one can “make” a person feel anything. Instead, we allow these feelings to occur. We give them life and this post was bringing all sorts of life to some not-so-nice feelings for me that I really needed to get to the bottom of.

I don’t know this woman in the slightest. I follow her on Instagram and read her posts but I don’t know her. I don’t know her except what she wants me and the rest of the world to know about her. And please don’t misunderstand me, she seems like a lovely person. It’s not necessarily her that I take/took issue with. I think this post came at the wrong time for me, personally. I had barely seen my daughter all week. I only saw her for an hour on Wednesday, between coming home from work and then having to go back for a parent night. One hour out of 24. And here I was, reading a post about how this woman got to leave her day job and now spends her days going on adventures with her daughters. So yes, bad timing.

She gets me.

She gets me.

I ended up writing a comment about how I thought her post was beautiful but that it was also difficult to read as I too dream of being at home with my daughter but I can’t. She wrote back because that’s the type of blogger she is; always wanting to be there for her readers. But what she wrote back enraged me even more. She responded with all the write buzz words/phrases, ‘walking in the path of your dreams’, ‘walking with your heart and soul’, like a new Oprah for the hipster mommy-set.

And while I appreciate the conversation, what I realized this morning, after finally getting a solid 11 hours of sleep (Gd bless Shabbat), was that not anywhere in her post or in her response did she talk about the privilege of being able to stay at home and ‘live your dreams’. And then I realized that though this blog of mine is technically a food blog, I sometimes delve into the ‘mommy blog’ world, which, I now clearly understand, is not the place for me. My sister-in-law, Caitlin, of The Joy of Caitlin, had a very sweet post published by the Huffington Post this week. She worked really hard to get it out there—posting it all over the place, and she absolutely deserved to have it posted. So I thought, why not follow her lead and try to get more stuff out there. I tried posting the only post I could find in my blog archives that I though would fit into the ‘mommy blog’ or parenting category. I took 20 minutes out of my work day on Friday to post it on various parenting/mom pages and bloggers but it just didn’t fit. Hell, one of them flagged me for spam, which I thought hilarious. But with that notification that someone thought my post was ‘spam’ came the realization of what I was doing. I was trying to fit a pentagon into a round hole. This community is not for me. I love reading my food blogs and I am so appreciative of the community of food bloggers I’ve become close to via the Kosher Connection and Instagram but the circle on mommy/parent bloggers is another realm and though a lot of them speak of light and peace, the general feeling I have is that it’s a competition of who has the most hipster dressed kids and appearance of a near-perfect life. And if you’re thinking I sound a little angry or frustrated, I am. In all my mommy/parenting blog reading, I have not once read the term ‘privilege’. Not once has one of these bloggers spoken about the privilege of staying home; the privilege of breastfeeding; the privilege of eating organic or ‘clean’. Every time one of these parent bloggers posts a meme on their Facebook page about the evils of formula or GMOs or baby cereal or the like, I wonder if they’ve ever thought about the countless moms and dads who don’t have the privilege of buying GMO-free, or organic or whose breasts didn’t quite work out as expected; much less stay at home to be with their children, and what that must feel like for that parent on the other side of their meme. Have they ever thought about privilege? Thanks to social work school, I think about it all the time. It’s a privilege I have this computer so that I can write down my thoughts. It’s a privilege that I have amazing friends and family who support me. It’s a privilege I can afford daycare and still have enough cash to pay rent and occasionally shop at Whole Foods. People don’t like thinking about privilege because they feel they have to apologize for it, but that’s not how I see it. If you can acknowledge it and not take advantage of it or acknowledge it and be self-aware enough to recognize what it means for those who don’t have it, well then, that’s a different story. That I can support.

Late-night blogging.

Late-night blogging.

And so when this particular mommy blogger’s post landed in my inbox I thought if I calmly comment, maybe I’ll get over my feelings of frustration. But I didn’t. In fact, it got a little worse for me. When the blogger responded to my comment that she advocates for the ability to ‘change our minds’, I thought to myself, ‘wow, what a privilege it is to even think that that’s always an option’. I can change my mind until I’m blue in the face but the fact of the matter is that I can’t afford to stay at home with Siona. And what would I miss if I did (besides food, shelter, health insurance and the like)? I’d miss the amazing community of people I’m surrounded by at work. I’d miss learning from them and laughing with them. I’d miss the diversity of thoughts they bring to my life. Some of these people are women with children, some of them don’t have any children. Some are married and some are not. Some of these people are men. Some of these people are white, some black, some Jewish and some Catholic. Some or straight and some are gay and the majority of all these folks are humble and self-aware. And, just like in real, I crave that diversity of mind and spirit in my online world as well. So, I’m giving up on my attempt to fit into the mommy world and instead will just be whomever it is I am . . . just like in real life. I will give time to the blog and let it develop organically (no pun intended) into whatever category it fits into, if at all. I will stop following all these other mommy’s on Instgram whom I first started following way back in the depths of post-partum depression, when I needed reminding that children do eventually sleep and that parenthood can be fun. We just don’t seem to have anything in common anymore. I will stick to food and family and see what comes.

And as for the recipe? Well, these are my most favorite meatballs. They are not gluten-free, but could be. I sometimes make them with veal and sometimes a mixture of veal and ground beef but usually with ground turkey. They are kind of like Thanksgiving all rolled into a delicious ball. I hope you enjoy and I thank you for reading.

For her.

For her.

Thanksgiving Meatballs:

What

1 package of ground turkey
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 pint of button mushrooms, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
Dried bread crumbs, preferrably challah, diced into small chunks (should be bigger than store-bought bread crumbs but not bigger than croutons)
1 egg
Thyme
Sea Salt
Pepper
Rubbed Sage

For the Stove Top*

Vegetable or Coconut Oil
1/4 Cup all-purpose flour

*I go back and forth between frying and baking these meatballs . . . depending on my mood. If you do decide to bake rather than fry, bake on a greased baking sheet on 375 for roughly 20 minutes

Those Colors!

Those Colors!

Those Look Like Ping Pongs, right?

Those Look Like Ping Pongs, right?

How:

Pour the olive oil in a deep frying pan with a flat surface. Let sit on medium heat for a few seconds. Saute the onions until transparent. Add the carrots and stir, sauteeing until carrots are golden. Add the garlic and continue sauteeing for another minute. Finally, add the mushrooms an saute for another minute or two. Sprinkle the mixture with a dash or salt and pepper, stir and pour into a separate bowl and set aside.

Preparing for Frying or Baking

Preparing for Frying or Baking

In a large bowl, combine ground turkey with the vegetable saute mixture, bread crumbs, egg, a dash more salt, pepper, thyme and finally, the rubbed sage. Stir mixture until well-combined (I use my hands and really get into there). Meanwhile, pour your flour into a small bowl and set on the stove near your frying pan. Also, in preparation, set out a plate with a few layers of paper towels in order to soak up some of that yummy grease after frying. After setting up, roll your meatballs into balls the size of ping pongs and set on a plate.

Post-baking

Post-baking

Hello little friends.

Hello little friends.

Once done shaping your meatballs, place frying pan on the stove over medium-high heat and pour in enough vegetable (or frying oil of choice) oil to cover 1/2 inch of the bottom of the pan. Roll each meatball into the bowl of the all-purpose flour so that each meatball is lightly covered in a flour dusting. Place 5 – 6 meatballs in the pan for frying, making sure to cook evenly on each side, giving about 4 -5 minutes of cooking for each ball. Once done, place on paper towel for grease-soaking.

A Shabbat staple

A Shabbat staple

August Love Stories: Love Goes Gluten-Free

19 Aug
Getting goofy with my Misty Dawn.

Getting goofy with my Misty Dawn.

The third guest post in our August Love Stories comes from my beloved sister-in-law, Misty.  I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when Misty wasn’t there.  She’s been in my brother’s life since he was about 22 and I was 19.  She’s a constant in my life; I rely on her for every piece of advice I could ever need.  She’s my first call when I have a baby question.  I think I must have texted her about 20 times a week when my 1 year-old was first born.  Lucky for her, that’s gone down to at least five or six times a week now.  Her relationship with my brother was the first healthy relationship I ever really had the privilege of watching grow and mature.  Truth be told, I looked up to the relationship Misty shared with my big brother as something to aspire to.  It’s a relationship filled with love, communication, respect and loads of laughter.  Also, my brother is an entire foot taller than Misty.  Now that’s just too dang cute.

From Misty  . . .

I never said yes when he proposed.  I didn’t go wedding dress shopping.  Not even one time.   I was 24 years-old when my husband proposed and although we had been dating for three years at the time and I KNEW he was the ONE, it felt surreal.  I had just turned 21 when we met.  We had a very tumultuous dating relationship.  Now, if you go to “Uncle Google” you’ll see the definition of tumultuous is exciting, confusing, disorderly.  I can guarantee you our relationship was all three of those adjectives with a whole lot of love in between.

Five months before our engagement

Five months before our engagement

My husband, who also happens to be Whitney’s older brother, and I met in college.  But, of course we didn’t go to the same college.  That would be way too simple, and honestly we probably wouldn’t have stuck together if we did.  Our dating relationship was a long-distance one.  Our respective colleges were roughly a three-hour drive from one another.  This was also fourteen years ago, before the entire world thrived on cell phone usage and text messaging, so we actually had to really communicate with one another.  I would check my Hotmail account once a day praying an email from him would be there.  We would try and call each other as often as possible, but we were college students and long distance phone calls where you spent an hour on the phone weren’t cheap, ya’ll.  To say we had many ups and downs would be an understatement.  Long distance relationships are NOT easy, especially when you’re in college.  There were lots of road trips.   I honestly believe though, that because our relationship was long-distance and based on honest open communication while learning HOW to communicate with one another, we figured out some of the hardest parts of a partnership those first 3 years.

Eleven years later . . .

Eleven years later . . .

During one of those trips that he drove from Athens late at night, he started to run out of gas.  His car at the time constantly needed oil added, and he kept a case of oil in his trunk.  When he  realized he wasn’t going to make it all the way without adding fuel, he pulled in the gas station and quickly realized he didn’t have a single penny on him.  Luckily, he was in South Georgia and the gas station attendant let him trade the oil he had in the trunk of his car for gas!  When he finally arrived at my house, he retold the story with me laughing and feeling terrible all at the same time.  It was really late, even in college terms,  and we didn’t have a lot of food in the house. I knew he must have been hungry, so I went in the kitchen and made biscuits, he must have eaten four or five.

Our little family about 4 years ago (you can't see our baby girl.  She's strapped to my front).

Our little family about 4 years ago (you can’t see our baby girl. She’s strapped to my front).

When I graduated college I moved home to Atlanta and 5 months later he proposed.  We were engaged for exactly one year before we married.  Three years later we had a little boy, and two years after that a little girl.  Ten years of marriage and fourteen years after we met, life is wonderful, hard and busy.  Both of our kids have dietary restrictions, mainly gluten and dairy, so when it comes to cooking I have to get creative.  When we first went gluten free, the thought of not having biscuits terrified my husband.  One evening, I decided that we could have them and set out to make almond flour biscuits.  Now, these biscuits aren’t the biscuits my grandmother makes, but they are an amazing substitute for those with dietary restrictions and they are gluten and dairy free!  Every time I make biscuits, I think of my man and that long drive in the middle of the night.  It makes me smile and remember, just how far we’ve come.

Biscuits ready to be enjoyed

Biscuits ready to be enjoyed

Almond Flour Biscuits

adapted from Elana’s Pantry

What?

5 cups of blanched almond flour

1 tsp of celtic sea salt

1 tsp of baking soda

½ cup of Earth Balance natural buttery spread (soy free)

4 eggs

2 tbsp honey

How?

Preheat oven to 350.  In a medium bowl combine almond flour, salt and baking soda.  In a large bowl combine Earth Balance, eggs and honey. I found it easier to mix the wet ingredients if I melted the earth balance a little.  Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until a nice dough forms.  Line 2 baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper.  Proceed to drop biscuits onto baking sheets using a large spoon, mine are about 2 ½ inches wide and 1 ½ inches tall.  This gave me 17 biscuits total.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until biscuits are browned on the bottom edges.  Enjoy!

A biscuits best friend? Coconut-milk soaked fried chicken!

A biscuits best friend? Coconut-milk soaked fried chicken!

(Black-Eyed) Peas + Love

15 Aug
Wedding  light

Wedding
light

The third in the Jewhungry August Love Stories come courtesy of one of the blog’s co-founders, Jeremy. Jeremy is an amazing storyteller and an incredibly creative soul. I wish we were next-door neighbors. We’d probably get fired from our jobs because we’d be on our porch swings sipping spiked Arnold Palmers all day. Sounds like heaven. I dare you not to fall in love with him through his word.

It was the black-eyed peas. Isn’t that where all great Southern Romances start? They should. I guess that isn’t really where it started. But that is definitely when I knew my life was about to change. Those black-eyed peas made me open up my eyes a little wider; they made me take notice. I mean come on, y’all. A man who will hand you a bowl of black-eyed peas and a slice of cornbread when the rest of the world looks at you like you’ve lost your mind? That’s a man you need to pay attention to, that is a man you should keep. If I were Scarlett O’Hara I would have required a fainting couch. Instead I grabbed my bowl of peas, took in a deep breath, gave a wry-smile and went on my lunch break.

Love is Funny

Love is Funny

Whitney's Wedding Weekend (say that 10 times fast)

Whitney’s Wedding Weekend (say that 10 times fast)

I started working in a restaurant during graduate school because that’s what graduate acting students are supposed to do. Actors work in restaurants. I guess actors are really supposed to be waiters, but I am far too clumsy to jump in the deep end like that. Honestly, I’m as likely to fall down as I am to take another breath. Volunteering to carry a tray full of drinks would be disastrous for everyone involved. I needed to work up to something like that, so I started out in the shallow end as a host.

Being a host at a busy downtown Chicago restaurant is not as glamorous as it may sound. Aside from looking up and having Maya Angelou or some hot baseball player in my face, there wasn’t a lot to brag about. Why do people act like fools when they go out to eat? Working at that welcome desk was like working in a pressure cooker. There was always a new drama, someone was always upset and everyone was hungry. It was pretty miserable.

When I look back on that time in my life it’s pretty clear to me that I had “dropped my basket.” Why did I stand at that desk night after night after night organizing a dining room for $12 an hour? Oh, right. It was so I could avoid thinking about how my life was in the toilet. I had moved to Chicago to study theatre. Exciting! I had arrived with a boyfriend and a plan. By the time I got out of school I had no boyfriend and my only plan was to not end up back in Arkansas with my parents. Everything had changed and it was not necessarily for the better. I should probably have been doing something more productive with my time than handing out menus and putting asses in chairs, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.

By the time Andy arrived I had almost given up. This was it. I would just be a host for the rest of my life. There are worse things. There are far worse jobs. I wasn’t a garbage man. Being a garbage man is worse than being a host, right?

I noticed Andy on his first day of training because I had never seen a restaurant manager smile so much. He was like a little miniature Sun. He was glowing. When you’re training to be a manager in a restaurant they make you work in all of the different departments. It’s supposed to help you become acquainted with how everything works. It’s mostly just low level torture.

His first week of training was in the kitchen. There he was behind the line in his little chef’s outfit smiling like a dang crazy person. No one has ever looked so happy standing in front of 1400 degree charcoal grills. No. One.

I was on my lunch break and was super excited because we had a new special. It was pork medallions over a bed of greens and black eyed peas. The only trouble was I didn’t want the pork. I just wanted a huge bowl of those black eyed peas and a slice of cornbread. It reminded me of home. I was willing to pay whatever I had to for those peas. I placed my order and waited.

The Chef came over to me.

You want the pork special without the meat?

Yep. I just want the black eyed peas.

Just black eyed peas? That doesn’t make any sense.

I’m from the South. That’s how we do. Is it a problem?

No.

Thank you.

I waited. My order did not come up. Finally I took matters into my own hands. I walked over to the only friendly face in the kitchen. I explained my order to Andy and explained the situation. I had paid for the peas, I just needed somebody to make them happen.

You just want a bowl of black eyed peas?

Yes, please.

Ummm. Okay.

I watched as he walked over to where the peas were kept. He took a bowl, filled it and handed it to me. I smiled and walked away.

I smiled because in that moment I knew that I had just met my husband. I know it sounds goofy, but it’s true. I knew when he handed me those black eyed peas that it was done. There were years between this moment and our first date. Years. I was not ready to be dating someone and he was in a relationship. That was…almost 10 years ago?

I am always on a quest to add meaning to what is happening in my life. How did this happen? What does that mean? I really believe that Gd is sending us messages all the time. I’m constantly trying to figure out what they are. What is He trying to tell me? I ended up working in that restaurant for a lot of reasons. I met wonderful people, I had amazing experiences. I learned so much about myself and about how the world works. That restaurant helped me to become a grown up. When I really think about that place, what I know for sure is that it brought me my husband. Yeah. Gd works in mysterious ways.

Give Peas a Chance

Give Peas a Chance

Hoppin’s John

WHAT:

1 large yellow onion chopped (whatever kind of onion you love can be used)
3 carrots chopped
3 celery sticks chopped
2 15oz cans of black eyed peas
1 15oz can of whole kernel corn
2 10oz cans of Rotel (I’m from the South, ya’ll)
10 oz frozen Lima beans thawed (you can used canned if you like)
2 cups rice (I use brown rice because Dr. Oz says so…2 bags of Uncle Ben’s 90 second rice will do the trick)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste

HOW:

Whisk olive oil and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside.

Everything good starts with a fried onion, y’all. Fry the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil until tender. You don’t want these veggies crunch and you don’t want them mushy. It’s a delicate balance. Do what’s right for you. I don’t think this takes more than 5ish minutes.

Hot and Fresh

Hot and Fresh

I use a lot of canned veggies because I’m always in a hurry. You can use frozen veggies if that’s your thing. The measurements aren’t hard and fast rules. Don’t be scared to experiment with the amounts of stuff you’ve got. Mix your fried onion/carrot/celery goodness with the black eyed peas and other veggies. Combine everything until you’ve got a real good distribution of all of the ingredients. Toss in the oil & vinegar mixture. Stir that around until everything is coated. Add salt and black pepper to your liking. This makes a really great vegetarian dinner or side dish. Enjoy!

Flamingos + Pizza + Babies. Now That’s a Party

13 Aug
Someone was bound to get naked.  Oh, also celebrating one of the few pictures where I'm not DROWNING in sweat. Dang Miami.

Someone was bound to get naked. Oh, also celebrating one of the few pictures where I’m not DROWNING in sweat. Dang Miami.

I survived my child’s first birthday. I survived and I thrived. And let’s be honest, the only reason it was a little bit stressed was me. I can’t do ‘simple’. I really can’t. It’s not in my DNA. Gd bless you if you can do simple. I admire and salute you but I just can’t do it. I mean, you should have seen my Bat Mitzvah. Of course there was a theme (Hollywood). Of course there was a color scheme (black, silver and magenta) and of course, there was a DJ who dressed up like Michael Jackson and did an entire choreographed dance to a medley of Michael Jackson through the years. I mean, this was THE Bat Mitzvah to end all Bat Mitzvahs. So you see, the daughter raised by a mother who bought life-size cut-outs of movie stars and a hot pink sequenced top hats and feather boas as decoration for her daughter’s Jewish coming-of-age party wasn’t going to grow up to tread lightly into her own child’s birthday parties. Oh no. Not a chance.

Grain-free peppermint chocolate chip brownies. One of my most requested recipes.

Grain-free peppermint chocolate chip brownies. One of my most requested recipes.

There was a theme (retro-Palm-Springs-tacky-chic). There was kind of a color scheme (pink, yellow, green). I had made all the decorations, from the “Happy Birthday” sign to gluing about 50 individual sea horse cut out onto toothpicks for cupcake toppers. Part of the reason I made everything is because I can’t in good conscience pay $10 for a happy birthday sign when I can pay less to make my own. Same goes with the cupcake toppers. Paying for things I can make hurts my insides a little so, of course I had to make that stuff. And of course, I made the food. Oh the food. The baking/cooking started at 8:45 on Saturday night and didn’t stop until 1:55 on Sunday afternoon (the party started at 2PM). My husband and I went back and forth with what to serve folks for a late afternoon party — I wanted to go dairy so that I could do dairy cupcakes. We settled on homemade pizzas of varying fun flavors coupled with your usual hummus, veggies, fruit, etc. I also made mini strawberry cupcakes using the Sprinkles Cupcakes recipe, which I highly recommend. And since we have a few loved ones with a grain-free diet, I ended up making mini grain-free pizzas using roasted eggplant and zucchinis as the ‘crust’ as well as grain-free, vegan peppermint chocolate chip brownie bites (I used my own brownie bites recipe, found here, and took out the oats and added a few drops of peppermint oil and vegan chocolate chips). All-in-all, I felt really proud of the party we created to celebrate the first year of life of our sweet girl. But honestly, I do love the planning and the arts and crafts and whatnot but that’s not why I do it all. I go through all this big planning because I also want to celebrate the people who helped make her first year of life so frikkin’ wonderful. Yes, I do love a good theme party and yes, I love cooking for people but more than anything, I love showing the people in our lives my ever-lasting appreciation through food and through taking care of them, even if it is for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. My hope is that they walked away knowing that I love them for loving our girl. And if they happened to take a few dozen extra mini cupcakes away with them as well, that’d be OK too.

Below is a photo journal of the party as well as a few recipes I created for our dear friends. I hope you enjoy!

Grain-free Pizzas

Ingredients:

1 large roasted eggplant OR 1 large, thick zucchini cut into 1.5 inch thick rounds
Marinara Sauce
Cheese of choice
Fresh basil
Oil for baking sheet

How:

Cut eggplants into 1.5 inch rounds and dust with coarse kosher salt. Leave on for an hour to draw out moisture. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat down with paper towel. Place on greased baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for roughly 30 minutes – keep eye out for over-browning. Once roasted, top with sauce and cheese — I used a standard marinara and topped some with sheep’s milk feta and some with mozzarella. Top with chopped fresh basil.

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

So. Much. Cooking.

So. Much. Cooking.

I made 3 different kinds of pizzas using puffed pastry dough as the crust — I couldn’t make the crust too. I wasn’t that much of a glutton for punishment. Anyway, the toppings were as follows:

1) Tomato sauce with mozzarella, roasted eggplant, roasted garlic and fresh basil

2) Tomato sauce with mozzarella, sheep’s milk feta and corn

3) BBQ Sauce, black peppercorn Monterrey Jack with caramelized purple onions

Roasted eggplant and garlic pizza.

Roasted eggplant and garlic pizza.

My 1 year old

My 1 year old

We still have 30 of these in our refrigerator

We still have 30 of these in our refrigerator

My Queen

My Queen

Just a bunch of moms being awesome by the pool

Just a bunch of moms being awesome by the pool

They really have no clue what's going on

They really have no clue what’s going on

Ice-cold beverage, anyone?

Ice-cold beverage, anyone?

After an hour in the pool, she was ready to party.

After an hour in the pool, she was ready to party.

Aunt Misty was there too! I bet she didn't even know it.

Aunt Misty was there too! I bet she didn’t even know it.

Seriously, Uncle Mo, do my shades make me look too ironic?

Seriously, Uncle Mo, do my shades make me look too ironic?

Cupcake ecstasy

Cupcake ecstasy

I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's the beard, but Siona is captivated by Zak.

I’m not sure what it is, maybe it’s the beard, but Siona is captivated by Zak.

One of those people I hope I can at least make half as happy as she makes me.

One of those people I hope I can at least make half as happy as she makes me.

Life Buoy: Love + Venetian Pizza

8 Aug

The second in our August Love Stories comes from Katia Bishops, the incredibly talented creator and blogger of IAMTHEMILK. I was blessed to discover Katia through several avenues, one being that of fellow blogger and my sister-in-law, The Joy of Caitlin. Katia speaks from the soul and does so with humor and authenticity. She doesn’t try to push any agenda but rather, wants to tell a story; her story.

Katia is a mother of two boys, 4 Year Old and 11 Month Old, currently on mat leave, fulfilling a lifelong dream of writing and making people laugh. And cry, which was not her dream nor intention. Katia writes about her children and occasionally about her husband, 37 Year Old. The serious stuff she writes about includes infertility, miscarriage and immigration. You can find her blogging at IAMTHEMILK (http://iamthemilk.wordpress.com) and on Twitter @KatiaDBE.

When I emailed Katia to ask her if she’d write for the series, I never thought she’d say ‘yes’. Not because she doesn’t seem incredibly kind in her writing, but because she’s like, famous and stuff in the blogging world. I admire her honesty and where she’s taken her blog so for her to agree to contribute and to add a recipe, well, we’re in for a treat folks.

Katia and Husband

Katia and Husband

A Life Buoy

A life buoy thrown to me in moments of deep all encompassing darkness. Moments that represented my ultimate failure. Moments that represented my ultimate vulnerability. Moments when I felt most exposed to the elements, usually in the form of people, were cushioned by you.

I’m sure you know by now that my Achilles Heel is the need to avoid conflict and to please all in the name of being accepted, being embraced. Some of the worst moments in my life were when I failed at that. Like the time when I lost that opportunity in London after much abuse from my millionaire brat of a boss. You know what I’m talking about. Failure at excelling, failure at independence, failure at the hopes built around this. I felt like I was quickly falling into a dark and very deep and wide pit. I’m not sure that you know that it was your life buoy that pulled me out.

I’m sure you remember October 2011 when we’ve received the devastating news about my second pregnancy, the one we were fighting so hard for. You drove home from work and we sat side by side on the sofa. I was sobbing, no – bawling, and you were comforting me, us. In a sea of comforting words from everyone who knew, words that failed to achieve their purpose, you told me that night that you’ve already spoken to him. We knew it was him. And that you’ve asked him to come back strong and healthy. I’m not sure that you know that it was your life buoy that I put my head on, rested for a while and then kept swimming.

I know you know how much I like food and travelling. I’m not sure you know my favourite trip was the one we took back in the year 2000 to Italy. I know you remember Venice, wandering around for a while in search of where we would eat lunch. You probably remember walking into that busy restaurant that felt more like a huge, noisy dining room, the mature waiter running around like a headless chicken and seeming bothered by the fact that the patrons were interfering with his work. Remember how we walked back out into the rain and decided to look for some place else? You remember the little “hidden cove” of a restaurant under the tiny bridge, I know you do. It looked more like a room in somebody’s home with two tiny tables and it probably was. We sat down at one of them and the server came up to us and instead of handing us menus she said “Pizza. With everything”. Half asking, half confirming. I know that you know how much I appreciate important decisions being made by someone else. I know you remember that we agreed. I’m not sure that you know that pizza was the best meal I ever had.

Quatro Formaggi Venetian Pizza with Everything Recreated by me For New Year’s Eve When Ben Was 7 Months Old

Ingredients:

Sauce: Instead of tomato paste I use one of the pasta sauces you can find at grocery stores- Marinara, Bolognese – you can go as fancy or simple as you like. I usually go for the tomato basil one.

Cheeses: I always use more than one. Grated Parmesan (I prefer an actual slice of Italian Parmigiano cheese to the pre grated ones you buy at stores), mozzarella, feta and/or blue (don’t overdo it, they are both pretty salty).

Egg: One of my favourite things about the Italian pizza was the sunny side up. Add the egg 5-6 minutes before you finish baking.

Herbs: Parsley and Basil. I sprinkle them at the very end, about 3 minutes before you take the pizza out of the oven.

Quatro Formaggi with eggs

How:

I know you know how to make pizza and I don’t need to tell you the order in which you put the ingredients on. Make sure to preheat the oven to 450°F for at least 30 minutes.

Before the pizza goes in the oven, lightly sprinkle it with olive oil.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until the crust is browned and the cheese is golden.

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