What an absolutely pleasurable experience. I am from New York so I am so used to being in an overcrowded museum just mushed in a mix of people. On a Saturday afternoon the Philly Museum of Art felt practically empty and we were able to amble about at our leisure and see some seriously cool art. I have never felt more relaxed in a museum! Ever. We had so much fun here and since it cooled down considerably and was cloudy– it was a good dark day activity.
I’m having one of those weeks where I feel bogged down but can’t find the source of the bogging. I am searching in every drawer but I can’t find what it is bringing me down. The grind of 9-5 job doesn’t help despite the love and support of coworkers and each day I find myself coming home depleted, worn out, and demotivated. Probably sounds familiar and despite my sadness, it makes me feel better knowing I am not alone.
I am fully capable of psyching myself up, repeating mantras, believing, and feeling inspired but I find very few outlets for that good energy. I have yet to find my gift to give and the process is endlessly draining, discouraging, and tiring. Hanging on to the belief that I’ll find my gift is not easy.
When I got home last night, unable to use my subway commute to determine what I should do with my life, I focused on dinner. I wanted to eat something that would taste like comfort food to take my mind off of the chaos for a bit. I wanted something to stick to my ribs but not weigh me down anymore than my own thoughts already do. So I decided to make shakshuka and make it for the first time. And of course, being as inwardly focused as I am, I recorded the process and wrote a little recipe.
I started by surveying what kind of spices and vegetables I had on hand to build this yummy egg dish around. I did not use a recipe. I am happiest when I am just grabbing whatever I have on hand and experimenting.
I love cooking but don’t have strong feelings toward recipes. I am including one here today and yes, I read them all the time. I believe the true pleasure of cooking is not following rules but taking something and make it your own. I like to use recipes as guidelines.
From my fridge and cabinets I pulled and used the following:
3 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of green onion
1 handful of Picholine olives
3/4 cups of tomato sauce
Pepper, parsley flakes, and turmeric
1 cup of arugula
I do love simple and minimal recipes and this one certainly falls into that category with a fairly short ingredient list and the use of a single pan.
To start I diced up the garlic while heating up a decent amount of olive oil in my pan. I kept the heat on low as I added the garlic. Next I rough chopped the green onion and tossed it in. And followed it up with some olives. The only olives I had on hand had pits so I spent a good amount of time both eating them and pitting them. Do yourself a favor and just go buy pitted olives and rough chop them as well. Toss them in with everything else and keep the heat low. Low heat requires patience but I usually use that time getting myself organized.
I let everything get tender but not mushy and poured in my tomato sauce. I used a Barilla pasta sauce that, while cheap, is pretty tasty. I stirred everything all together.
After that I sprinkled on some pepper, parsley flakes, and a tiny bit of turmeric because I like its anti-inflammatory properties and add it where I can. I did not stir these in, I left them on top to help season my eggs. Which I cracked right on top of the mixture. I wish all 3 eggs would have sunk in a little bit more from an aesthetic standpoint but in the end they all cooked nicely so it wasn’t a big deal.
After the eggs were cracked and plopped in, I covered the whole thing and turned up the heat to medium. I let them cook for about 10 minutes but should have done 7. The sauce cooked down just a touch too much. Full disclosure, I was texting my friends and making my lunch for the next day so I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should have!
I pulled everything off the heat and after a little photo shoot I dumped the mixture onto a bed of arugula.
And then I ate until I felt better. Which is perhaps not a healthy statement, but it is true.
Cooking is soothing and keeps me feeling level when days are long and difficult. Cooking dinner gives me a sense of purpose when I feel like I have none. I think perhaps that is why I cooked elaborate meals every single night when my former relationship was falling apart. It makes me feel needed and accomplished. It is the best escape.
Give the recipe a try and let me know what changes you make. There is a million things you can add to this! (Avocado, feta cheese, tomatoes, etc.) Also, what do you cook when you are feeling blue? Why does it make you feel better?
SHAKSHUKA FOR ONE
3 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of green onion
1 handful of Picholine olives
3/4 cups of tomato sauce
Pepper, parsley flakes, and turmeric, to taste
1 cup of arugula
- In a small to medium pan, heat olive oil over a low heat and add diced garlic, green onion, and olives
- Once tender, pour in tomato sauce and stir
- Sprinkle with pepper, parsley, and turmeric, do not stir
- Crack eggs on top of sauce
- Cover and turn heat up to medium
- Cook for about 7 minutes or until eggs are baked through
- Remove from heat and lay on a bed of arugula
A lot of old pain bubbled up this month, mostly stemming from my rent being raised and my scramble to find a new home. I’m still looking, but not as passionately as I should be. It is one of those rare moments that I am faced with decisions I’d rather avoid and hide from. It seems so much easier to pretend that it’s not happening and that I don’t have to make a decision that will so greatly impact my life. It’s hard living in a city where your home can be thrown into complete flux. It makes you feel imbalanced. And very alone.
Strangely, as a result, I find myself spending more time alone. I didn’t notice it until days passed and I hadn’t spoken to anyone but my dog. I wasn’t working on projects either. Just sitting, thinking, reading (maybe). I am what you would call listless and what for me is a rarity. I feel my fire put out and I am worried it isn’t just the apartment thing anymore but a host of other things, all simmering just below surface. What they are, I’m not sure, but my desire to do anything other than worry about where I will live, has been quelled. I do not, in any sense, feel like myself.
So where did I go?
More importantly, how do I come back?
Over this same course of time I’ve been thinking very hard about what I want to write. Have you ever seen a writer who doesn’t have a genre, a home, a comfortable place? It’s embarrassing, frankly. I’ve been trying to teach myself to listen and look for opportunities where I would normally ignore them. What I heard a couple of times was the same question, “Why don’t you ever write about food?” Which is funny since I spend 80% of my time thinking about food in one capacity or another. I am either hungry, researching restaurants, ordering groceries, reading about trends, or eating.
It had never once occurred to me to write about food in a serious way. I think in the back of my head I just assumed that food writing was for people that were chefs, or former chefs, or food critics with insane palates. I guess I never thought about letting just a simple passion manifest itself in such a way.
As I mulled this over I also considered how I stopped cooking (really cooking) this time last year. While I’ve been marinating in limbo I didn’t realize I had stopped cooking or baking. That a year had gone by without any attention paid to one of my favorite pastimes. I used to cook full, intricate, and delicious meal 3-4 nights a week. I’d bake. I’d scheme. I’d eat. A year has passed of so-so meals, tried and true recipes. Flavorless turkey burgers and bowls of cereal. I lost the thrill I had for cooking. It went away with the close of a long relationship.
I let it leave the baggage and take my cooking away. My heart breaks to even write this knowing that I drowned out an important part of me because someone else used to play a part in it. Here I was thinking that I was fine but I erased something important to me because it reminded me of something sad. I wasn’t that strong after all.
So here I am, a year later and prepared to face some weird food demons. But it will be interesting and (maybe exciting) to reconnect with a former version of myself. I also can not wait to share whatever fun things I find along the way with you. It’s been a challenging couple of weeks but I keep hearing that when things get tough is when the magic happens.
While the original intent behind interviewing my friends for the blog was to highlight their endeavors, I am finding that writing about them reminds me of why our lives converged and how important it is that I keep them near. As we grow older and pursue various relationships and careers, we don’t get to spend as much time together as we’d like, and this process has allowed me to reconnect with some amazing people.
With that said, my next interview was with my best friend, Kate Hayes. ‘Literally’ is so overused by now… but I have LITERALLY known Kate since she was born and have been through many phases of life with her. Something that she has always done for me, whether I am celebrating or I am deeply saddened, is feed me.
I popped by her Sutton Place apartment last week to have her teach me one of her original recipes. She’s actually never written it down before, so we had fun trying to put together measurements. The recipe in full appears at the end of this post.
We stand in her kitchen and she turns on the heat of her gas stove. She flips the heat to about medium and starts warming up two skillets and measuring out Arborio rice, what you use to make risotto.
“I’m making you my ‘Risotto Two Ways’. One is Pea and Prosciutto and one is Pesto.”
I ask her what she loves about risotto so much.
“It’s my number one comfort food,” she says.
If you don’t know, risotto is a creamy, often times wine-soaked, rice dish from Italy. It can be made in a multitude of ways, which is why when I met up with Kate, she focused on her two personal favorites. I ask her if it’s a comfort food because she ate it a lot as a kid or if she thought it was because of the nature of the dish.
“It’s the nature of the dish. I didn’t really grow up eating it. I did eat a lot of regular pastas like spaghetti and meatballs, penne and sausage, and lasagna.”
She started experimenting with risotto on her own about a year ago. She’s worked on perfecting her recipe ever since.
She starts sauteing the rice in frying pans. Since we’re making two kinds, she has two pans out. She warns that a lot of people undercook their rice at this stage and makes sure to get ours nice and brown before adding in the white wine, the first of many doses. The pans start to boil and she brings them down to a simmer.
“My great-grandmother was from Florence and she taught me how to cook in her kitchen,” she continues, “and from there I started cooking with my grandparents and parents.”
She remembers that pasta was the first thing she ever made on her own in the kitchen. I ask her what she thinks of the carb-cutting craze that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
“It’s crazy! Carbs are the spice of life,” she says. “Carbs are life. It’s scientifically proven that it’s the best way to convert energy. As is fat.” She laughs as she points down to her hand ladeling in some butter into our mixture.
“It’s all about balance.”
The wine is absorbing nicely so she heads into pouring in some chicken broth. She also pours me a glass of the wine saying, “The key to making this is drinking wine while you do it.”
I happily take the glass and she explains to me her other favorite risotto dish to make, “Drunken Risotto.” She tells me it’s about 80% wine and 20% chicken broth. Most recipes are the opposite but she tells me that it has no butter or cheese in it so, “It’s practically vegan.”
I laugh and sip my wine. We’re both gluten-free so I ask her if she found her way to risotto because she couldn’t eat pasta anymore.
“That’s pretty much it. Back when I found out I couldn’t have gluten, the options were pretty terrible. So risotto is what I would order in Italian restaurants.”
Her favorite restaurant risotto? “Basil Zucchini Risotto at Cafe Boulud. It’s perfection.”
By this time we have been standing over the hot stove for 15 minutes. Adding liquid as we go. This is the technique to making risotto. Little amounts of liquid over an extended period of time. It is not a Set-It-And-Forget-It meal. You have to stand over the stove constantly stirring and adding liquid. It’s a bit of a commitment but she tells me that, “Once I want it, I commit to it. It’s worth it.”
She also finds it relaxing because, “I have to concentrate on risotto, so it gets me out of my head.”
The Arborio rice she’s using does suggest boiling the rice for 30 minutes. She shudders and cringes when I ask her if she’d ever resort to that. I probably wouldn’t either. It sort of sounds like flavorless gruel.
We hang out in her kitchen like this, talking about cooking and living while she sprinkles Himalayan Salt and Truffle Oil in and we keep adding the liquid, to the dish and our glasses.
As we finish up and the dish truly becomes “Two Ways”, prosciutto and peas into one and pesto into the other, I ask her for advice for anyone who wants to start cooking but doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing.
“Pick a night you want to try it and clear your schedule.”
I have to agree. I create the worst tasting food when I’m rushed.
She continues, “And use a cookbook for inspiration but don’t stress about the recipe. It’s about individual taste and what you like the most.”
It’s funny because she’s said the same thing to me countless times over the years from recipes to relationships, “Do and eat what you like the most.”