I Am What I Am.

There are many words the people in my life could use to describe me, but I don’t know if the word “nice” would be amongst them. “Creative” would be, and “loyal,” I’d hope. Perhaps “funny,” likely “clumsy,” and ideally “clever.” I wouldn’t mind hearing “chic,” but that may be stretching it. “Nice,” though — that one I’d wonder who was pranking me with vocabulary.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think I’m a bad person; in fact, growing up I was pretty much a “good girl,” a fact I think my parents would even readily admit, even if at the time they thought otherwise. I’m just not who people envision when they envision “nice.” I think they probably envision someone like Reese Witherspoon. You know she’s nice.

Reese Witherspoon -- 10thirty.

I, on the other hand, really like the word “thoughtful.” That’s one I like quite a lot. I mean, I love the holidays for the presents, and not for the reason most would assume. What I love is considering what a person likes. I love just thinking about a friend, and thinking about what I could give or get to make her or him happy. I love thinking, “Wow, Erin would really like this.” I love packaging those presents up, making a tag that says what gift goes to who, stacking a pile of wrapped parcels into a bag for delivery. But mostly I like thinking about the people I love, and finding something that might make them smile.

So when I see a recipe whose flavors I know will appeal to Keith even more than they will to me, I’ll tear that recipe out, file it in my binder, and save it to try one day. There’s a school of thought out there that believes women dress to impress other women more than they do for men. Well, I cook for Keith, and in more ways than one.

I don’t look at this as a domestic thing, or an anti-feminist thing — it’s a love thing.  I care about this man, deeply, and since this man enjoys Indian food, the least I can do I throw together a really easy chickpea curry every now and again.

Chickpea CurryI lack the ability to explain how simple this recipe is, and how quickly it all comes together.  A lot of the times, I read little magazine articles about putting dinner on the table in minutes, and when I try those same recipes it takes me twice as long to make it through as I’ve been promised.  This is not the case with this chickpea dish.  It literally takes as long as it takes to cook rice to make this, and if you use boil-in-a-bag rice as recommended, it’s even faster.  Basically, this dish makes a funny, clumsy, loyal, creative, clever and possibly-but-likely-not chic gal like me thoughtful and nice in one fell swoop.  So everyone wins.

Chickpea Curry with Basmati Rice, from Cooking Light
Makes four portions

1 (3.5-ounce) bag boil-in-bag basmati or brown rice
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, diced
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can unsalted crushed tomatoes
1 6-ounce package fresh baby spinach
½ cup plain 2% Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Cook rice according to package directions; drain.
  2. While rice cooks, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in garam masala; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add chickpeas, tomatoes, and spinach; cook 2 minutes or until spinach wilts, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in yogurt and salt. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve over rice.
I Am What I Am” by Spiritualized.
Reese Witherspoon photo from Hooked on Houses.

A Place Called Home.

Here I am now, at home.  I love traveling, and I love going places, and even though I’ve been to Asia more times than I can count, each trip is still amazing and fun and exciting.  That said, I’m glad to be home, sitting on my pouf with my laptop while Bethenny Ever After… is on On-Demand.  (Don’t judge.)

I do admittedly feel that clichéd thing about time fly fly flying but that’s how the trip felt for me: it went by so fast and intense that it’s almost hard to imagine the details of it at all.  I mean, we were in Boracay a week ago, perspiring and getting absolutely gnawed to death by mosquitoes, and now it’s a bit chilly in my apartment and something like 57° outside and sunny, but in a way that makes you want to sit in it as opposed to hide from it, which is what it was certainly like in Asia, particularly for the easily-sunburned Keith.

Speaking of Keith… what a lovely man, what an outstanding individual.  I’ve been sick as a pike since Tuesday and he’s been handling it (read: me) incredibly well.  I arrived in Hong Kong on Monday with a tickle in my throat, and by the time Tuesday rolled around I had run out of medicine and was taking these Chinese herbal pills called Zomoxyl, which smelled like nothing else I have ever experienced.  It had ingredients in it such as herba androgrphitis (40%), herba taraxaci (20%), herba violae (20%), radix scutellarine (10%) and glycyrrhiza uralensis (10%).  The best part was the little English-and-Cantonese write-up that came inside.  I would have scanned it, but it was just too ridiculous and it’s much if I just tell you about it.  Let’s just say that there was a bald eagle, with a waving-in-the-wind American flag behind it, and a star-bedazzled olive branch framing the whole thing.  Here are some highlights of what Zomoxyl supposedly treats:

  • upper respiratory tract infections like otitis media;
  • lower respiratory tract infections like lung abscess, empyema and bronchiectasis;
  • dental infections;
  • skin and soft tissue infections like cellulites and impetigo;
  • genitourinary (?!) tract infections like pyelonephritis, cystitis, bacteriuria, acute prostatitis and gonorrhoea;
  • bone and joint infections like ostemyelitis;
  • and “severe systemic infections” like gynaecological infections, pureperal sepsis, septicaemia, peritonitis, intra-abdominal spesis, menigitis, typhoid and paratyphoid fever.

I kept all the spelling from Zomoxyl sheet as is.

I should never get sick again after fourteen of those capsules, instead of coughing my way across Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui and Victoria Harbour and spitting up funky chartreuse phlegm and trying to walk around in crazy heat and humidity with a congested heavy head that felt like it was slowly going to cave in.  And when I say crazy heat and humidity, I mean the kind where standing still outdoors makes sweat drip down your boobs and your back.  I can’t figure out which is worse, sweat dripping down the front or the back, when neither is preferable.

What I should do now is some laundry and make a grocery list for my empty home, but what I really want to do is take a nap.  More later, I suppose.

Oh, and the vomiting — I’ve been vomiting since Wednesday.  I stayed in bed until noon while Keith bought some tea and stocked up on table tennis gear, then vomited up my Michelin-starred lunch, my water the next morning at the hotel and at the airport, and then who-knows-what on the plane several times and then more at JFK…  Why couldn’t I have gotten sick in Manila, when I was almost always surrounded by a surgeon, a pediatrician and a med student, instead of by Chinese pharmacists with whom communication was a true adventure?  This eagle-loving, USA-emblazoned Zomoxyl better clear up everything that ever has or ever will be wrong with me medically ever.

And now, laundry!

A Place Called Home” by PJ Harvey.

On Knife Skills.

Last night Melissa and I took a knife skills class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts; Keith had given me a gift certificate for a class years ago, along with an eight-inch Global chef’s knife, and it took me this long to sign up.  Neither Melissa nor I had taken a class like this before — I can’t speak for Melissa, but I didn’t know what to expect, aside from a bit of chopping.

The class started out with an anatomy lesson — the anatomy of a chef’s knife, I should specify — which I thought was really interesting.  Some of it is pretty obvious (i.e. the cutting edge, the handle, etc.) but I didn’t know about things like tangs and bolsters; while I knew that forged blades are far more superior (and far more expensive) than stamped, I didn’t know why; and I didn’t know the difference in the degrees of sharpness between European- and Japanese-made knives.

(For the record, the tang is the extension of the blade that goes into the handle.  The tang of a full-tang blade runs from knife tip to the end of the handle; some knives have hidden tangs while others are visibly sandwiched between the two halves of the handle.  The tang of a half-tang blade runs only through a portion of the handle.  A full-tang is the better of the two for two reasons: balance, and strength.

The bolster is where the of the blade and the handle of a knife meet, and are found on forged knives.  Bolsters, like tangs, help with balance; unlike tangs, they prevent fingers from slipping.

Forged blades are made out of a single piece of metal that has been heated to something like 1400° and then has been hammered into shape. Stamped blades are made cookie-cutter style, and are literally stamped out of a piece of metal.  The spine of a forged knife gradually tapers into its sharp cutting edge, while the cutting edge of a stamped knife is pretty much just cut into the blade.  Because of this, the cutting edge of a stamped knife isn’t capable of maintaining its sharpness as much as a forged knife.

Lastly, a European-made knife usually has a twenty-two degree angle of sharpness while a Japanese-made knife usually has something more like an eleven degree angle of sharpness.  An angle of sharpness is exactly what it sounds like: the angle at which the blade narrows into its cutting edge.)

Then we discussed the exact specifics of precision cuts, the measurements of which I’ve never been able to keep straight in my head because I’m simply dreadful when numbers show up in my life.  Afterwards we headed into the kitchen section of the classroom and spent a good amount of time cutting up a bunch of different vegetables and making garlic paste.  I’m pleased to say that I was already quite competent with the basics, though I was terrible at the cheating version of the tourné.  (In my defense, there are numbers involved.)  We also learned a fancy-but-useless way to cut mushrooms so that they look vaguely artichoke-esque — I wish I had a photo, but the next time I cook a mushroom dish I will document it so that you all can be super-impressed with my mad skills skillz.  The same for the incredibly easy and awesomely efficient way I learned how to cut peppers.  Seriously.

Regardless of your cooking abilities, I think checking out a knife skills class is a good idea.  I thought it was really fascinating, and fun, and you might even learn something, novel as that sounds.

These photos were taken with Melissa’s and my cell phones, hence the fuzziness.

 

Thank You.

A moment: thanks to everyone for their sympathy.  Part of me feels silly for feeling as I do about Winston’s death, particularly when I have to explain to people why I’m so unusually and sometimes publicly emotional.  At the same time, I’ve really enjoyed all the stories and memories people have shared, both about Winston and about their own beloved pets.  Winston was a huge part of my life, and he was so special to me, and your condolences and general warmheartedness are so greatly appreciated.

Beth Eats + Drinks Imports.

Beth and her husband Bob moved to Prague in 2008; I miss her terribly but am glad she’s gone since hearing about life in the Czech Republic is fascinating.  Here’s what she wrote about her food diary:

I realized how many things I eat (well, drink — all my tea and coffee) I brought from the States… but that’s just because I was just there. Usually it’s less of a mix, more Czech. I’m trying hard to be healthy (8 servings fruit & veggies etc).

6.23 am: Trader Joe’s French roast (imported in my suitcase).  Small black cup for me, giant beermug full for Bob.

7.02 am: Second cup.

8.38 am: Cottage cheese, one cup. Water.

10.09 am: Pot of decaf peppermint tea, honey.

11.58 am: Big salad with greens (Vogerlsalat, not sure what that is), tomatoes, green onions, shredded carrot, and awesome homemade dressing (tahini/lemon juice/garlic/soy sauce/sesame oil/honey)

1.50 pm: 1 cup coconut chai, peanut butter lollipop (spoonful of pb).

6.04 pm: Bob is out for tennis and beer, so I’m on my own. It’s chicken and broccoli, and water.

Moist + Tender Chicken Breasts, from the kitchn

2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, of even thickness
Salt and pepper
¼ cup flour
Handful of herbs (optional)
Olive oil and butter

If you have a little time before cooking dinner, lightly salt and pepper the chicken breasts. It’s great if you can do this the night before, but it’s not necessary.

  1. Mix about a half teaspoon of salt in with the flour along with a little pepper. Chop the herbs finely, if using, and mix in as well.  Dredge both sides of the chicken lightly in the flour.
  2. Heat a large heavy skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat, with a little olive oil and about half a tablespoon of butter. Quickly sear both sides of the chicken breast until just faintly golden; you don’t want the insides to cook much at all.
  3. Cover tightly and turn the heat down very low. Cook for 10 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes, still tightly covered.
  4. Remove lid and serve. There is usually just enough chicken fat, along with pan juices, to make a simple sauce, too.

Garlicky Sesame-Cured Broccoli Salad, from The New York Times
Makes six to eight side-dish servings

1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
2 heads broccoli, 1 pound each, cut into bite-size florets
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 fat garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons roasted (Asian) sesame oil
Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes.

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar and salt. Add broccoli and toss to combine.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in sesame oil and pepper flakes. Pour mixture over broccoli and toss well. Let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature, and up to 48 (chill it if you want to keep it for more than 2 hours). Adjust seasonings (it may need more salt) and serve.

Marcella Craves Coffee.

Marcella and I have been friends since we were unceremoniously lumped together as roommates our freshman year of college… meaning we know a lot of each other’s dirty little food secrets, such as who was addicted to maraschino cherries, who chewed bagels too loudly and who forced who to make many a late-night White Hen run for more Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip.

9.15 am: The plan was to have cup of espresso, skim milk and Torani sugar-free hazelnut syrup. It’s my tragic version of an at-home latte. Realized I had no milk. Decided to return library books while out.

9.35 am: No parking spots anywhere.

10.05 am: Espresso concoction, finally. Slice of banana bread that I’d baked before going to bed last night.

11.55 am: Another espresso concoction. I am working on a cookbook project right now even though I don’t frequently cook (though I often toast things).  Lemon cake.  Greens and beans.  FEED ME.

1.00 pm: Campbell’s tomato soup and oyster crackers.

3.00 pm: Anjou pear. Pre-run snack.

4.50 pm: Iced mango mandarin green tea on my way to a meeting. Served in one of those red plastic party cups.

7.12 pm: A few handfuls of sliced almonds.

7.45 pm: More almonds.

8.10 pm — 10.15 pm: A Hoegaarden at my favorite bar, where my sister and I shared a yummy pizza topped with buffalo chicken, sweet and sour sauce, jalapeno peppers and mozzarella cheese. It’s a menu item and a complete success. Seriously. Switched to Lake Placid IPA, then had one more.

Stephanie Eats Out.

I thought it would be fitting to post Stephanie’s food diary today, since she’s leaving for Italy and adventure in about seven hours.   (It’s okay to be envious of her two months abroad.  You won’t be the only one feeling that way.)  Buono viaggio…

Oh, and what Stephanie ate is kind of unusual because she doesn’t usually buy all of her meals out.

10.00 – 11.00 am: I drank four glasses of juice – two glasses of Welch’s apple juice and two glasses of Dole orange strawberry banana juice. My body must have been craving the vitamin C.

3.00 pm: Because it was an hour wait at Stone Park for brunch, I deliberated between the shrimp and grits and what I ultimately decided to order: scrambled eggs, short rib hash, potatoes, wheat toast with butter and apricot marmalade, two glasses of water and a Bloody Mary, garnished with a lime, celery, and the largest caper I have ever eaten.

4.00 pm: I drank a large iced coffee that didn’t quite hit the spot. There wasn’t enough ice in the cup.

4.30 pm: I ate a vegan carrot muffin with not-vegan cream cheese frosting while I sat at Prospect Park.

5.30 pm: I drank a small pot of chai tea with honey at Tea Lounge.

8.30 pm: For dinner, I ordered take-out from China One. I ate General Tso’s chicken with broccoli, pork fried rice and an eggroll.

10.30ish: For a late-night treat, I ate two rice crispy treats that Jasmine made with chocolate, cashews and a dash of curry.

Dinner at Russell House Tavern.

My cousin Niki’s in town from the Philippines for a month, and since she’s a cook this means we’ll likely be eating out a lot while she’s here.  Last night we met up at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square, and let me tell you that you should stop reading right now and get yourself over there.

It’s busy and loud at the restaurant, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying your food — especially if you get the crispy soft-poached egg ($7.00) off of the small plates menu.  Don’t pay any attention to the spare, boring-sounding description (“Pecorino aïoli, toasted brioche, house pancetta”).  Honestly, those words do nothing for this dish.  Maybe it should instead say something like “absolutely amazing, will make you want to order thirds, trust me.”

I’m really not being ridiculous here.  The sous-chef is a friend of Niki’s, and after introductions and hellos, we pummeled him with questions about this dish.  Apparently the egg is poached at a precise temperature — I think he said 140° — for something like forty-five minutes before it is breaded and deep-fried.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  Breaded and deep-fried.)  The egg is then placed on a small mound of greens and encircled with a creamy ring of aïoli that just about knocked me out of my chair.  Though the restaurant has only been open for barely over a month, the egg is already considered to be its signature dish.

After such a start, I guess it would be natural to have doubts as to whether other menu items could possibly stand next to that fantastic egg but I’m here to assure you that you have nothing to worry about.  I made a meal of small plates and appetizers — some of which I grudgingly shared — but the very reasonably-priced dinner menu has options that include pizzas, sandwiches and steak frites.  It’s an American gastropub after all, and though I can’t speak for its British predecessors, I don’t think they’d have any objection to Russell House sharing the category.

In addition to the egg (oh, that egg), we ordered the spinach gratin ($9.00) and charcuterie board ($10.00) to share.  I never have anything negative to say about charcuterie, and I dare anyone to try to do that regarding the chicken liver pâté, the smoky pork rillettes and the anise-flavored terrine that I tried to keep for myself.  The gratin was nothing to complain about either; its blue cheese base went so well with the sesame-zahtar flatbreads we spooned the spinach onto.

The one dish I didn’t share was the steak tartare ($10.00), which is probably because I’m just a greedy person at my core.  What I really liked about the tartare was, aside from its tenderness and delicate flavor, that the beef was chopped rather than ground.  Otherwise, I feel as though I’m eating a raw hamburger.

One last thing and then I’ll let you go: make sure to have a safe way to get home because when you see the beer/wine/cocktail list you are going to want to try one of everything.  I don’t advise that, but I do suggest you get the Battle of Trafalgar (which is worth its price of $9.00 and more).  It’s dangerously good, and should be since it’s made with Pimm’s, St. Germain and honey.  If you’re not a mixed drink kind of person, the beer selection will probably make you happy.  I know I was pleased to see Goose Island Matilda, my favorite beer from my trip to Chicago, on the roster.

I can’t stress enough how much I think Russell House Tavern is affordably-priced.  The portions, even on the small plates, are generous (though I’ve got to say that no one at my table ordered an entrée, so I can’t truthfully comment on that).  Gigantic salads passed us, we couldn’t finish the gratin, Keith took half a pizza home.   I truly think that the menu is comparable in value-for-money to Garden at the Cellar, which is one of my favorite places to eat in the area, and if Russell House proves to be consistent both will be competing for a place in my heart.  Or stomach.  Whichever.

So what are you waiting for?  Go already.

Russell House Tavern
14 JFK Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.500.3055
russellhousecambridge.com

Russell House Tavern on Urbanspoon

Whirlwind.

I’m in the midst of a few hectic days.  I just got back from a forty-eight-hour trip to Buffalo for a cousin’s wedding — we left for the airport at 5.15 am, and tomorrow morning I take the 7.30 bus to New York to visit Stephanie in Brooklyn for two days before she leaves to go to Italy for two months.  I’m here, on my sofa, for less than a day, and I haven’t had anything to eat since the wedding dinner, and I’m getting that cranky-nauseous feeling from lack of food.  Good thing we’re going to Garden at the Cellar for an early meal.  I’ve already got the taste of chicken and thyme croquettes on my tongue.  I’ll fill you in when I get back.