A Celebration of Beets!

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One of the most beautiful things about eating produce in season is discovering how nature is so well in tune with the human body.  In the months when we are most susceptible to depression and lethargy due to lack of exposure to sunlight and often times less physical movement, the winter season brings lots of Vitamin D-rich seafood and loads of tuberous (root) vegetables packed with B Vitamins.  B Vitamins are natural antidepressants and its important to get lots of them in while we can.

Beets contain lots of B vitamins such as niacin, (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5) and pyridoxine (B-6) and are more delicious than swallowing a pill, not to mention their impressive mineral and other vitamin contents.  Beet greens have a nice salty flavor when eaten raw, whereas the stalks taste very similar to the beetroots when cooked.  Beetroots are wonderful when they are pickled and sweetened, or just boiled and eaten on their own.  I like to boil the beets and drink the water that they boil in, which transforms into a sweet red tea full of wonderful nutrients.  I never ate beets growing up and my only experience of them was on Easter morning because my mom used to make pickled hard boiled eggs in beet juice. (Don’t knock it till you try it).  I began eating them this winter and now I love them both for their taste as well as for the energy they give me.  I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg as far as beets are concerned and I’ve seen so many fascinating recipes –including many desserts–where they are featured. I’ll be getting my full share of beets while I wait for warmer weather.

If you still need an extra dose of happiness to shake the winter blues, try playing the Graceland album really loudly.  Works for me at least.

Happy Spring!

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In which I apologize for leaving you with beans and broccoli for so long

Not that the soup of the last post is anything to feel sorry for, but I do realize that broccoli has its limits.  I have been eating well in the meantime, but the recipes are not particularly amazing.  Lots of yogurt and sweet potatoes and eggs and chicken, to be honest.   I’ve also had stringy savory corned beef and salty cabbage for St Paddy’s to warm me up after a crazy trek to NYC.  The parade was on Saturday, and because of this it was even more chaotic than I remember; the whole city morphed into an undulating sea of green drunken joy.  It was a good “welcome back” moment, as I had really missed the celebration of St Patrick while I was away for two years.

I am due for lots of recipe postings, but I don’t care because Patrick Murray is more important today.  So I will focus on him while I eat my bok choy salad.
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Yesterday the Murray family celebrated Patrick’s baptismal day.  I took two sisters to Target to buy him a gift and try on some of my faves from the boy’s department.  But all the other kids with the pumped up kicks convinced me not to make a purchase yet.
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Anyway, during some point in our roaming, I must have dropped the car keys.  We didn’t realize this until we arrived back at the car and so we rushed inside again and retraced our steps and found the nearest Target employee.  She happened to have both dark brown skin and deep cerulean blue contacts and I felt like I was looking at Eurybia reincarnated.  We told her about our predicament and she walked away while we continued searching the isles until I heard a voice behind me saying “Ask and you shall receive.”  I turned and there she was again, goddess of the storms with her cool ocean eyes, holding out my keys.  It was a moment; I knew better than to disregard it so I looked back at her rather intensely and nodded.  Then we drove home.

Profile of Patrick Samuel at age 9

-A real go-getter, motivated and focused
-Excels at most things: extremely athletic, pretty smart, good at the drums
-Loves to laugh, loves having fun
-Affectionate
-Likes trying new things like new sports or drawing or anything really
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-Goes through great phases: Davy Crockett phase, golf phase, etc.
-Looks up to his older brothers
-Generally fun to be around
-Knowledgable on NBA and NFL stats

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-Is a pretty special kid. I love you Patch. First godson I ever had, and born the day before my birthday. Best gift in the world.

A Celebration of: The Small Stuff

Awhile ago, my sisters and I minus Lulu drove down to Maryland to watch our scrumptious nephew while my brother and sister-in-law went away for the weekend.  In that time we did lots of fun things, including but not limited to watching marathons of Vampire Diaries.  Who says you can’t be an adolescent teenage girl forever??

Anyway, Hannah was not allowed to watch because I was concerned it was maybe too scary and boring for her anyway, so she would do her own thing but still got to hear everything going on in the episode.  At one point, being the neurotic older sister I am, I asked her if the episodes were scaring her.  Our conversation went like this:

Me: Are you having Vampire nightmares?

Hannah: No.  I don’t get nightmares.  Well, sometimes I do when I’m sick, but they are about things that other people wouldn’t think are scary.

Me: Like what?

Hannah: Like me being alone in a big white room and then the Beverly Hillbillies come in.  It’s like claustrophobic or something.

???????

This is what I love about a huge family.  There is always more to discover about my very own siblings.

Or, as Tin Man Sanchez likes to say, “It’s the nitty gritty of life that’s the best part”  

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Amen, Tin Man Sanchez!

Enjoy your weekends..and love the ones you’re with!

A Celebration of: New Jersey

When I arrived back from Lebanon, New Jersey seemed to be bathed in a transcendent haze of utopian light that I didn’t think could possibly fade.

Perhaps that’s because I arrived smack in the interim when summer begins to defer to fall, which is Jersey’s best look:

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Being home felt like the top of the world. Lots of joy all around.

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It lasted for around four months (which is about how long my culture shock high lasted when I first arrived in Beirut and Lebs seemed like the best country in the world in every possible way…but even after the initial high evaporated, Lebanon still gets a top ranking in Marie’s Index of Awesomest Countries…but we’re talking about Jersey right now ).

There were walks, blustery trips down the shore, night outings with my sisters right before Sandy hit, candlelight dinners for weeks after Sandy, my brother’s championship soccer game, and many trips to the local bar that I had really missed while I was gone.
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Then reality settled in right alongside familiarity, and I seem to be getting restless once more.  I have a feeling I’ll be moving out of Jersey again soon and that I’ll miss all the glorious mundaneness of everyday life here.  For this reason, it’s important to give New Jersey the ode it so deserves.

New Jersey you are:

1. The armpit of New York?  Perhaps, but if so, I’ll nestle into you any day.  You have suburbs and cities and history and rural areas, enough ghetto to keep us grounded, and the infamous shore boasting some pretty great waves. You are close enough to NYC that the Big Apple is at once homey  and familiar and still very exciting for those who don’t have to make the daily commute (and I’m sure even commuting has its charms).

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2. The best bagel-maker of all 50 states. You are the expert bar-none with the kind of doughy delights that are hard on the outside and have the perfect combination of soft and chewy interiors. Delicious with taylor ham, egg and cheese. Delicious with a generous slathering of cream cheese. Or warm and buttery and sinfully unctuous.

3. Persevering against the flow in the gas station department. You realize that sometimes gas station attendants have the best stories and are some of the most interesting people and also, who wants to pump their own gas mid-winter?

4. A faithful provider of diners to crash at late at night for milkshakes and fries or perhaps a post-midnight order off the breakfast menu.

5. Fully aware that we need a good dose of all four seasons. Even though winter is a little longer than many would like, it could be much worse, and we do have St Paddy’s Day to distract us with enough beer, tender-salty corned beef, and Irish soda bread to carry us right into spring.  You give us crocuses and tulips for a joyful spring, the beach and the sweaty humidity of a good hot summer, enough trees for a breathtaking fall, and hills for sledding in a cold white winter that’s usually broken up with intervals of temperature highs.

But most of all, New Jersey, you were my personal incubator for the entirety of my childhood.  You hold some of my best memories and you will always feel like home.  So if I do take off anytime soon, don’t forget that you’re still my favorite –even if I love the whole world–and I’ll never be gone for too long.

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A Celebration of the Roaring Twenties and Cranberry-Apple Baked Oatmeal

You spoke my language and touched my limbs
It wasn’t difficult to pull me from myself again
And in our travels we found our roads
You held it like a mirror, showing me the life I chose -Sea Wolf, Dear Fellow Traveler

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My friends and I are going to write a book one day and it will be called “Shit No One Told You You’d Go Through in Your Twenties.” Stay tuned. It won’t be all bad. The twenties are a loaded package of transitions and growing pains and trials that slap you in the face with adulthood. But if you can emerge from everything you weren’t expecting to encounter, you’ll realize that it wasn’t for nothing and the world is wider and fuller than you could ever have imagined. No need to be afraid.

I have just come over the hedge of my mid-twenty mark and if I turn around for a minute, the view behind me is really something else. There are graduations and travels and internships and new people and weddings and empty bank accounts and health-related hurdles and anxiety and break-downs and relationship sagas and proud accomplishments and intense loneliness and stronger friendships and new babies and unemployment and unrelenting existential questioning. It’s been one hell of a decade so far, but now, I can honestly take a deep breath and look forward to whatever the second half will bring. All these experiences shape me whether I like it or not. And not that I want to give the hard times any encouragement, but I have to admit that every single time life knocks you down, it also gives you the opportunity to get up a little bit stronger and wiser. (Thank you, Nietzsche, for being dead long enough for me to plagiarize and paraphrase your words).

Sometimes, all I can do is sit in amazement and wonder and look at God with a thankful heart. Then I get up and find courage to do frightening things such as budgeting and baking, both of which require entering into the wild world of numbers and precision.  Since selfishness is something I hope my twenties will continue to drive out of me, I make the decision to bake.  There is nothing about baking that I enjoy except for the smells and the taste of the final product, and now even that last pleasure is robbed by my gluten intolerance.  Nevertheless, I’ll still bake because I love my family and because there are cranberries in the kitchen that will go bad soon.

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Cranberry Apple Oatmeal

*This is more akin to oatmeal than to bread in texture.  Like oatmeal, it is not too sweet on its own, so toppings of brown sugar or maple syrup or honey are welcome additions.

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups steel cut oats
1 cup cranberries
3 apples, peeled and chopped (I used gala)
2 cups whole milk
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cage free eggs

Preheat oven to 350° Use a food processor to grind the oats into a coarse oat flour. Add the cranberries and 1 cup of milk and blend. Transfer to a kitchen aid, add the rest of the ingredients, and mix until smooth. Pour into two greased loaf pans or two smaller ones and bake for an hour or until a knife can be inserted and come out clean.

Enjoy with some butter or jam… or just inhale the smells and pretend you’re tasting it. The sad thing is, I could have used gluten free oats for this but didn’t have any. Next time.
 

For the Ones I Love: A Celebration of Family

But when I’m alone
When I’ve thrown off the weight of this crazy stone
When I’ve lost all care for the things I own
That’s when I miss you, that’s when I miss you
You who are my home…
And here is what I know now
My salvation lies in your love   -Alexi Murdoch, Orange Sky

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During this unique season in my life, I have the privilege of living at my parents’ house. Since I know this is a temporary arrangement, I am drinking it to the dregs.  Something you should know: I am one of twelve children. Not everyone is living at home, and we’ve gained a sister-in-law and a nephew, but living here still looks like: not knowing where my clothes are until I see them on my sisters; constantly doing dishes; chaos before dinner when backpacks are strewn everywhere and homework sheets are shoved to the side while someone sets the table; early morning scrambles to pack lunches, find coats and get out to the bus on time; and many moments that try your patience.  But it also looks like sleepovers every night with my sister, dance parties, nightly Jeopardy episodes, the luxury of an expanded wardrobe composed of stolen articles of clothing, quality time over coffee with my parents in the morning, and lots and lots of laughing.  It’s crazy and I love it.

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Facts and fiction concerning my big family:

Fact: It’s easier for me to cook enormous portions than to cook for two.

Fiction: It’s cheaper by the dozen.

In the end, the truth of the matter is that my family makes me who I am.  Together, we are a group of individuals with different personalities, ages, opinions, beliefs and interests. We’ve had  to learn to defer and to be open-minded and develop a good sense of humor.  We are who we are.  It’s not perfect, but they are my home and to tell the truth, I love my family more than anything, so don’t be surprised if they pop up everywhere on this blog.
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A Celebration of Sweet Potatoes and Sweet Potato Frittata

I believe Gertrude Stein is credited with saying “If you enjoy something, you understand it.”  Sweet potatoes, I understand you.

For awhile, my only knowledge of yams or sweet potatoes came through Thanksgiving and Chinua Achebe.  My cousin prepares a spectacular dessert version of mashed sweet potatoes every year, and that was really my only first-hand experience of them.  I did develop a fascination with them for awhile after reading Things Fall Apart because they seemed like the lifeblood of Achebe’s novel, tying the people to the land in a cycle of deep respect and reciprocity.  There were also a few pages in The Invisible Man when the narrator comes across a yam vendor and orders a buttery syrupy yam that brings him back to his childhood and even challenges his self-perception.  I don’t know what spiked my curiosity to try them again outside of Thanksgiving Day, but my reaction after Bite Number One was something like WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE???

Oh the sweet potato.  Packed with vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene and resounding with all sorts of goodness from potassium to vitamin C to B vitamins, this wonderful root vegetable offers better eyesight, disease prevention, stress relief, healthy skin and even helps to ward off depression.  And it tastes like happiness.  And its pretty much available all year round.

I can’t get enough of the sweet potato and apparently it can’t get enough of me because it keeps re-surging in all different forms on my plate.  I like it mashed with coconut milk and maple syrup and a bit of butter…or walnuts and cranberries…or topped with almond butter.   I like sweet potato pie with a walnut and hazelnut meal crust.  I like them boiled or baked in their skins as a snack with some butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.

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I like them roasted with carrots and capers and beets and fennel.  I like sweet potato fries.  I like sweet potato soup.

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And I like eating them in the morning in an unusual but tasty, custardy frittata.

Breakfast Sweet Potato Dessert Frittata

Ingredients:

1 tbsp chia seeds
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp honey
2 cage free eggs
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup boiled, mashed sweet potato with skin removed

Optional garnishes: shaved coconut, crushed walnuts, dried cranberries

Stir the chia seeds into the coconut milk and let them sit overnight in the fridge.  The seeds will expand and give the frittata a custard-like consistency similar to tapioca.  In the morning, add the eggs and sweet potato to the mixture and whisk together.  Preheat oven to 400°.  Melt the butter in a small cast iron skillet or frying pan and pour in the mixture to fill the pan.  Transfer to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes or until the frittata is firm.  Remove it from the oven and drizzle with the honey. Garnish as desired. Enjoy!

Serves 2

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Note: Sweet potatoes should always be served with some fat, as vitamin A is fat-soluble and will absorb better in the body.

A Celebration of Leeks

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When I used to babysit for my neighbors’ children, sometimes I forgot to bring work or reading to keep me occupied after the kids were asleep, so I would raid the bookshelves and make my way through the chapters one night at a time.  It was during one of those times when I was first introduced to Mireille Guiliano and her writings on food and pleasure.  Although I am not a fan of the catchy title of her most popular book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, I do think she has loads and loads of wisdom to offer. Mireille’s philosophy in a nutshell (and you should really read her books yourself because I’m butchering it here) is that if we take time to engage our senses in all that we do, we can lead more fulfilled lives.  My introduction to Mireille also turned out to be my first introduction to leeks.  Mireille is a woman who really appreciates the leek in all its glory.  Her recipes are brimming over with leeks and she even uses leek juice as an occasional detox formula.  Although I don’t think I’m capable of following through with a detox (unless maybe it looks something like this), I have to agree with her that there is more to this unassuming vegetable than meets the eye.

First of all, they belong in the same allium family as the garlic and onion, so they are in great company.  They boast of high levels of Vitamins K, A, C and B6 and have manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper and folate as well.  Leeks are more humble and subtle than onions and have soothing fragrant properties that conjure up images of cozy afternoons with a bowl of chicken soup.  They are good team players as well; they know how to complement other vegetables without dominating.  They are delicious in the morning when braised in oil or butter with spinach and eggs and a dash of salt.  They are the perfect companion to the potato in a bowl of creamy soup.  I also imagine they nicely accent the sweet-savory duet of strawberries and goat cheese in this dish. They do just fine as a side dish to a slab of grilled salmon or roasted poultry…and they are also able to hold their own quite nicely if given the chance.  This afternoon, I decided to let them stand alone and savor all their mildly sweet oniony flavors post-lunch, steamed and drizzled with balsamic reduction and olive oil.

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