Today is my birthday. Yes it's true! Today I am officially grown up.
No, that will actually never happen. Especially when I continue to keep a pizza sketchbook and talk for my dog in a very bad French accent.
What? Did I just write that?
Along those lines, for my birthday this year I am going to make a few confessions. Food-related confessions. I have some weird food-related habits and I'm going to come clean and tell you what they are. Then you can bring on the judging.
Or perhaps, as a birthday gift to me, you can tell me some of YOUR weird food habits. Because I know you have some. Everyone does.
Here are mine (in no particular order):
1. I reheat coffee. Sometimes even the next day. Sometimes even when it has milk in it. Oh, and I actually like soy creamer. I know...horrendous.
2. My favorite breakfast is poached eggs on oatmeal. But when I'm at the gym and can't get poached eggs, I'll get hard boiled eggs and mix them into an Apple Cinnamon oatmeal packet. Sometimes with strawberries. It's the best. It also grosses everyone out.
3. I cook with the refrigerator door open.
4. I've eaten tripe. And liked it.
5. I've eaten more food when on dinner dates. Yes, with men.
6. I have a gourmet food impulse buying problem. Please don't tempt me with $12 bags of artisinal granola or lemon curd made from the tree in your backyard. I will buy it.
7. My favorite ice cream flavor is Chocolate Chip Mint. And that's how I say it, too. I like it to be green.
8. I was briefly employed as a funnel-cake chef at a Jersey Shore amusement park. I spent one summer constantly smelling like a donut. You'd think I'd have made more friends.
9. I really like chicken liver.
10. I prefer the tenticle parts of calamari over the rings.
11. I used to eat peanut butter and sprinkle sandwiches.
It's this last point I would like to address now, in honor of my birthday. Yes, I used to make myself peanut butter and sprinkle sandwiches. The bread must be white (a potato or buttermilk bread is an indulgent choice), the peanut butter must be creamy and the spinkles must be the long, multicolored kind.
It has recently (two days ago) come to my attention via my friend Kaz that the Dutch enjoy a similar delicacy called Hagelslag. The Dutch, however, prefer to use the butter of cows for sprinkle cement, while I enjoy the butter of peanuts.
The result is similar in that you have a glorious, sandwiched version of birthday cake. And I am going to tell you how to make my version (should you need instructions, which really does seem silly).
2 slices white, potato or buttermilk bread
peanut butter (I'm not going to judge you on how much you use, but don't skimp)
rainbow sprinkles (enough to cover one side of the bread in a thin rainbow layer)
Place bread on a plate.
Smooth one slice with peanut butter.
Spinkle sprinkles on top of the peanut better.
Cover with the other slice of bread.
Eat with delight and wonder like a child diving into her own birthday cake.
Happy birthday to me!
I lived in Los Angeles from 2001 through 2007. When I lived in LA, I was married.
Did the ground just shake? Yes, it's true. I was a married person.
When my marriage ended, I moved back to NJ/NY and I struggled with visiting Los Angeles. I felt awkward there, like I was always looking over my shoulder for a life I would rather leave behind.
So I stopped visiting. But this wasn't a very good solution either, because I missed some of the wonderful friends I made while I lived there. So last year, I decided to change my mind. I went back to visit, and I told myself I was going to enjoy it (dammit).
And, oddly, I did. Very much. So I returned. I'm in LA right now, writing this post and having a great time.
Great. Words are very simplistic sometimes. Too simplistic to articulate all the emotions that are happening at once. I often feel this way about food — WOW! This tastes AMAZING!
Well, that sounds stupid. And one-dimensional.
And there's been a lot of three-dimensional stuff going on. Stuff that makes me happy to have a bit of space from my usual NYC routine. To concentrate, and check in with me so I can try to figure things out.
When I try and do this, it's usually a combination of thoughts like:
This is weird.
Did I send that email to that guy about that thing?
Do I have indigestion?
I don't like these pants.
So I started going to yoga for a little assistance. I know! But, in California, they make you leave the state if you don't have either:
1. A regular yoga studio.
2. A therapist.
I've had both and have only positive things to say about them (stand by by for a hilarious story on #2 that I will only tell if you request it).
Also, I've been told that yoga is good for my solar plexus. I really want my solar to be less perplexus, and right now my solar looks like this:
Anyway, I tried out a new yoga studio and very much enjoyed the thought meanderings of the instructor. At one point in the class, she advised us all to look at our beautful bodies in the mirror which were made of, "light and stardust."
Wait for it....
I'm not making fun of her. After she said that, she pulled out her iPhone, looked something up and continued, "Yeah, stardust. You know, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen and Carbon."
Perspective (and word choice). Huh.
So I'm changing my perspective on Los Angeles, yoga, my solar plexus and squash.
Squash? Yes, squash. I've always loved squash, but I find that I cook it the same way all the time. How about something new? Something with three-dimensional flavor. Something un-perplexus.
I cooked this for some of my very favorite people in the whole world (who just happen to be Los Angelenos), Kaz and John. They ate it with gusto. They declared it was AMAZING! In a good way. Of couse, I did threaten them with both a rolling pin and a metal spatula. But that was unrelated.
So if you'd like to change your mind on squash, here's what you should do:
Elana's recipes for Perspective-Changing Solar Un-Perplexing Squash
2 winter squashes, cut into rounds (about 3-4 rounds per squash) and emptied of their seeds and guts.
4 small eggplants, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 bosc pear, diced
1 cup of quinoa (I used a mixed yellow and red variety)
2 cups miso broth
10 dried roasted tomatoes (I found these specially at Surfas. You can use sun-dried tomatoes)
1 small shallot, diced
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
a bunch of fresh cilantro
lots of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Lebanese seven spice , divided (see mix blend below)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp maple syrup (grade B)
Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the squash circles and the cubed eggplant on the baking sheet.
Drizzle the eggplant with about 2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.
Rub the squash circles with a small amount of olive oil. Now, drizzle both sides in the maple syrup and sprinkle with the Seven Spice Blend and a little salt.
Roast the veggies in the oven until soft, about 30 minutes. It's best to flip the veggies half way through the roasting period, if you can.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a medium stock pot. Place your diced shallot in the pot and sautée for about 10 minutes. You want the shallot to get brown, but not burn—almost caramelized. Once this happens, add in the cup of quinoa and mix to coat the grains with oil and shallot. Add the extra teaspoon of Lebanese Seven Spice and the smoked Paprika and mix to incorporate.
Add the tomatoes and the 2 cups of miso broth. Allow the quinoa to cook completely, about 20 minutes. Stir occassionally.
Once all the liquid has evaporated, remove the quinoa pot from the heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil, cover the pot and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare a large serving dish. Place half the roasted eggplant and half the diced pear into the dish. Add about half the quinoa mixture and using a large fork and spoon, mix it up.
Then add in the squash rings, nestling them into quinoa. Fill the holes of the squash circles with more quinoa and add the rest of the eggplant, pear and quinoa around the squash circles.
Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and as much chopped fresh cilantro as you would like. Don't hold back! Then, garnish with the pumpkin seeds.
Serve with giant spoons and giant plates and more cilantro on the side. Everyone will tell you it's AMAZING!
Lebanese Seven Spice Mix:
1 tablespoon allspice, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon ground fenugreek, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground ginger.
What the heck is fenugreek? It's a pretty cool Indian spice. If you can't find it, you can substitute with curry powder.
Mix all these fantastic spices together and store them in an air tight container for about 4 months.
I've spoken before about creating space. You may remember the accident that inspired this original post. Since then, I've continued to think about it. Continued to shift things around my apartment and my mind, clearing space for....
I think what I'm clearing space for is space in itself. When you have a clearing, it's tempting to fill it. With activities, with objects, with THINGS.
Instead, I'd like to clear space and leave it empty. Give myself and my thoughts room to breathe. Because there are discoveries that can happen in between the rest of the stuff that's crowding it all out.
Accordingly, I went to Seattle. Obviously people. I wanted space away from my space. So I signed up for a food photography and stories workshop out on the west coast and got excited about what discoveries I might make between the THINGS.
In my photos, I tried to think about space. The space that wasn't occupied by a spoon or a plate or a perfectly plated dish. What story would that tell? What would that leave room for?
For me, it left room for a story. Room to talk about aroma, and really smell the cilantro sitting atop a steaming bowl of soup. Room to hear the noises, of the coffee beans grinding, of the knife chop, chop, chopping. Room for laughter, and for friends to pull up a chair and listen to the stories I'm trying to tell.
Room to try a different angle and see from a different perspective.
And in shifting perspective, room to move something from the background into the foreground...
On an empty plate. Because the place you are filling is as important as what you are filling it with.
Recipes coming next time...
Every time I'm looking for a life metaphor, I turn to pie. Dessert pies, fruit pies, pizza pies, shepherd's pies...there's something about the filling and container — separate but harmoniously working together — that acts as a vehicle for me to understand where I'm going, where I've been and where I'm at.
And where I'm at feels a little cobbled together right now — kind of like this specific pumpkin pie I'm bringing to you today (in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving).
This pumpkin pie represents balance. Right now I feel like I'm performing some kind of balancing act. I'm sitting (metaphorically, yet again) on a fence. One foot is on one side of this fence, where exists my "old" or normal way of life. The other foot is dangling into new territory.
I'm scared of this new territory. I don't know what's down there. So, with this pie, I relied on something I knew that works. Something familiar: butter. I made a butter crust.
And then, for the filling, I threw caution and probiotic yogurt into the mix for the "new" me filling. Daring! And weird. And potentially gross and terrible. But, honestly, the result was delicious.
And so I sit here, eating my balance pie, thinking maybe this fence isn't such a bad place to be...for now.
Yes, I feel unstable and uncertain about my direction. But maybe I don't have to give up everything old (BUTTER!), but can take what works (BUTTER!) and bring it with me into whatever is waiting on the other side.
Now, if I could just get down....
Want some of your own balance pie? Here's how to make it. Feel free to improvise...that's what this is about.
For the Crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar (you can use regular sugar)
1 stick of butter
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic glace (optional)
For the Filling:
1 small roasted sugar pumpkin, yielding 2 cups of pumpkin puree
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup plain kefir or drinkable yogurt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
pinch of salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract or 1/2 of the insides of a vanilla bean
2 tbsp rum or bourbon (optional)
For the crust:
In a food processor, mix together the flour, sugar and butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand. I like to cut the butter into pieces before I add it to the food processor. This allows it to blend more easily.
Pour this mixture into a large bowl and form a well in the center. Into this well, add the eggs, egg yolks, salt and balsamic glace.
A note on the balsamic glace: This is optional. I was looking for something to add a bit of sweetness, but also a touch of a bite. I also wanted something sticky. Glace is very thick - almost like molasses. In fact, molasses would be a good substitute if you don't have glace. You can make your own glace with balsamic vinegar. Just simmer 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar on your stove top until only 1/8 cup remains. Ta-da! Glace.
Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Form it into a ball and wrap it up. Refrigerate the dough for about an hour before using.
Meanwhile, make the filling:
If using a sugar pumpkin, roast it in the oven. Heat your oven to 400°F. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the guts and seeds. Hang on to the seeds to roast them later on if you like!
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the pumpkin halves, cut sides down on the sheet. Roast for about 35 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft and the skin starts to peel away.
Remove the pumpkin from the oven and allow it to cool. Then peel away the stem and skin. Place the pumpkin meet in a large bowl and mash with a whisk.
Increase the heat of your oven to 450°F.
In a food processor or with a handheld mixer, beat the eggs and butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin purée, spices, salt and mix thoroughly.
Add the kefir (or yogurt), rum, and vanilla and mix. If the filling seems too dense, you can add more yogurt 1/4 cup at a time until you achieve your desired consistency. It should look and feel like cake batter.
Roll out the refrigerated crust on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin. If using mini pie tins, grease them with a little cooking spray. If you're using a large pie tin or spring form pan, line it with parchment paper.
Place the rolled out dough into your pie molds. Fill the molds to the top with pumpkin filling. If you have extra dough, feel free to cut them into shapes and place these shapes on the top of the filling.
Place the pie(s) in the oven and bake at 450°F for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325°F and bake for another 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pie comes out clean. Sometimes this takes longer than 45 minutes. Don't panic.
Check on the pie every now and again. If the crust is getting too dark, place some foil around the edges to protect it from the heat. I usually have to do this, and it's not a problem.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Pumpkin pie is best when set, and in order for it to do that it needs to cool a bit.