My brother in Detroit

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(From Christmas a few years ago)

The week before last, I took a trip up to Detroit to visit my brother James who is volunteering for an organization called Youthworks Detroit. My biggest regret is that I was too caught up in the whole experience to remember to take any pictures. I did try to make up for it by recording voice memos of my takeaway from the week during my solo 10 hour drive home. I need a good while to process all that I saw in that short period of time. What’s easy to write about is how good it was to see my brother and the work that he’s doing, and be able to participate in it a bit with him. I was so impressed with him, how he assumes his responsibilities and doesn’t complain and is open to learn and grow and has become a real leader and is someone I not only love but respect and admire. If you’ve been to Detroit, you know that it is a very unusual place. It is the skeleton of a once affluent and booming city, and various political, social, and economic calamities have joined forces against it to render it the sprawling emptiness it is now. Nevertheless, I experienced more life there than I have in a long time.

The streets are covered in bright bold graffiti, and the people I met took my breath away.  I was able to sit in on an AA/NA meeting where everyone was so real and true to who they were and what they had experienced, that they were able to help and support those around them in a rare way.  Here in NYC, there are lots of barriers that we build between ourselves and the world to hide behind, and there is a lot of alienation that happens as a result.   In Detroit, what I experienced was an environment that broke down all those barriers and stripped people down to their basic humanity.  The brokenness was certainly very visible, but it was refreshing to be in the presence of so much honesty and authenticity.  I thought to myself, “Marie, if you really want to be educated, if you really want to know what life is all about, don’t let yourself drift too far from places like this.”

It was also very cold.  I was a total weakling, shivering from the time I entered Michigan until the time I arrived back in New Jersey.  And that’s another reason why I was so proud of Jim….for sticking it out through a long gray winter.  He has this hilarious dry cynical sense of humor that helps though.  I get the impression that a good sense of humor is an essential tool to survival in Detroit.  In any case, I can’t wait to see where he goes from there.

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.

In Which I Decide That Veganism Is Not For Me

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There are weeks when I can set myself in the center of such a smorgasbord of plant-based dishes and consider the veganist manifestos of documentaries such as Forks over Knives, and contemplate the horrors revealed in Meet Your Meat or Food, Inc, and for some shining moments think “If I stop eating animal products, maybe I can help the crux of the problem.” And with my steaming bowl of hearty bean chili in hand I think, “Who needs meat anyway?”  Then my brother Joe will do something like bring home this enormous bowl of seafood soup and share half of it with me and I’ll think “Well pescatarianism is a worthy compromise.”

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But then, alas, on the following day Joe (who clearly doesn’t know what it means to give away your seafood soup without expecting anything in return) will request my culinary services. I will recall the fact that I have a big fat skirt steak sitting in my possession, and as I lose myself to its peppery perfection and red wine garlic butter sauce I sigh and realize, again, that veganism will always be a noble aspiration that I will never subscribe to as long as my meat-loving heart shall live.

Ingredients

1 grassfed skirt steak (mine was about 1 lb. and was quite enough for 2 people)
1/4 cup red wine
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp ground peppercorn
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp walnut oil

Rub both sides of the steak well in salt and pepper. Set in a pan on medium heat in a tbsp of walnut oil. Cook until one side has browned and flip to continue on the other side. In a small separate pot, simmer all other ingredients into a sauce. When the steak has cooked to your liking, serve with the sauce spooned over. I also served mine with SMASHED!! potatoes. (Doesn’t that sound way more fun than mashed potatoes?) Enjoy!

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(^^PS. It looks like Cora woke up with a nightmare. Maybe it was all that Vampire talk yesterday. She was ok after I sang to her a little. ^^)

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!

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

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This morning I was thinking about the home that I live in and all the hundreds of thousands of people involved in the production of this house and all the things I own.  There are walls and paint and furniture and appliances and clothes and books and lamps….and each of these things is composed of so many different materials from so many different places and factories.  In my ideal world, I would love to be able to answer the who, what, where, when and how of it all.  I would love to know all the workers who gave me what I have and know that they were treated justly and know their stories.  In today’s world, that is pretty much impossible.  All the same, I think these issues are particularly pertinent in regards to what we put into our bodies.  The who/how/what/where/when behind our own nourishment seems like something we should not have to work too hard to understand.

As a country, we’ve gotten so far past that point that it seems like people are really trying to swing the pendulum back to some semblance of normalcy.  There is more awareness about farmer’s markets and local organic farming.  There are more and more CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs springing up, and it seems people are becoming more aware of how food and health are intrinsically connected.  (Thank you Captain Obvious.) 

It is more time-consuming to live this way, but I would argue that it is entirely worth the time and energy.  Quality takes time, but the rewards far outweigh the costs.  This is a topic I could talk about for hours and days without growing weary of it…and if you happen to be a family member of mine, you know I can become annoyingly didactic on all matters food-related.  “Marie all I want is to enjoy my slice of pizza without you going all Sermon on the Mount on me!!”  Poor family.

So instead of bewailing the evils of processed foods (and its not like I’m a total food purist myself), I’ve been trying to focus on the joy of cooking instead.  Because it is a joy.  It’s a conversation with myself actually, in which I hear a whisper “Meet me in the kitchen.”  And then, “Try  a spicy stew of purple cabbage and hot sausage and sweet potatoes today…you’ll be surprised!”  And I mix and stir and inhale scents and flavors and I am surprised.

As I was by this delicious pizza.

Ingredients:

Crust

1 head cauliflower
1/3 cup goat cheese (If you don’t like the taste of goat cheese, you can use a cup of mozzarella instead)
1 free range egg
1 Tbsp dried oregano

Toppings:

Whatever you like!!

I used: homemade tomato sauce, spinach, eggplant, green pepper, onion, zucchini, and parmesan cheese.  I sauteed all the vegetables in olive oil except for the spinach. Afterwards, I threw on some leftover grilled chicken and it was a dreamboat of a meal.

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Preheat oven to 400° Place cauliflower florets in a food processor and pulse until it becomes grainy. Steam until the cauliflower is soft, and drain thoroughly using a dishcloth. (Or just microwave it for about 8 minutes). Let it cool a little, and while it’s still warm, stir in the egg, goat cheese and oregano. Place a sheet of parchment paper over a pizza pan, and spread the crust over it. Bake it for 40 minutes. Remove and coat with your toppings of choice, and then broil in the oven for 5 minutes. Enjoy!!

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Strawberry Bean Quesadillas

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Yesterday I stopped in at Scotti’s record store where I had not been in ages.  My sister Celine wanted to buy a gift there for a friend.  Coincidentally, I had just finished listening to the All Songs Considered podcast about favorite albums during college.  All day I’d been trying to figure out which artist or song or album had the single greatest impact on me in my college years.  I couldn’t nail it down.  That’s really hard.  I’d love to say that I nursed an obsession with a single band, but there was such a conglomerate of groups that I went to for all different reasons…some to serenade me while I studied, some to blast in the car, some to be my personal soundtrack when I felt invincible, and some to serve as the backdrop when I was feeling low and needed to stew in my own funk juices for awhile.

Recently a friend asked me what music I listen to while I cook.  Also tricky.  If I am preparing something grandiose and need to channel my inner Jacques Cousteau, I will usually have either opera, Charles Aznavour or Edith Piaf playing.  If I am cooking as a means of self-therapy, it could be anything from Paul Simon to the Avett Brothers or Arcade Fire or Jeff Buckley or The Staves or Brand New or Cat Stevens or Talking Heads or Sigur Ros or Fall Out Boy or xxx or or or…..it all depends.  If I am surrounded by my family, Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong will always do the trick.

In any case. my trip to Scotti’s and subsequent purchase (just could not refrain) reminded me of all the times when I’d just brought home a new album or mix and couldn’t wait to get in the car and drive with it and use up half my gas tank just to let the music elevate me and remind me what a good thing it can be to be alive, as myself, in this world.  And then I’d look forward to listening to it again and again and again until every lyric was engrained and every octave switch was anticipated in my bones.

Also, as I drove with my new purchase last night, I remembered that caution is required  to avoid potholes and too-bumpy roads so as not to scratch the disk.  I happened to choose particularly bad roads, but with fingers crossed, we made it out unscathed.  That is one of the downsides about having a cd as opposed to simply downloading new music, but there is just something so much more exciting about holding a new album in your hands and sticking it in the player.  Anyways….

Yesterday I made this refreshing dish while Shakira sang.  Not the new, commercialized Shakira, but the very young old school artist with the awesome lyrics and carefree attitude that exuded from her first album: Pies Descalsos.

I have to say that, delicious as these quesadillas may be, they still fit more into a summer food category than a winter one.  All the same, they are super refreshing and enjoyable any day of the year.

Ingredients

(Inspired by Sprouted Kitchen)

8 corn tortillas
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 avocado
1 lime
1 handful fresh cilantro
8 strawberries
2/3 cup black beans, cooked and blended
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup goat cheese
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Stir together the beans and yogurt. Spread over a tortilla and then layer the spinach, slivers of avocado, two sliced strawberries, and a few sprigs of cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over it, and then give it a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Top with a smattering of crumbled goat cheese and a second tortilla, and heat on a pan over the stovetop on high heat until the outer side of the tortilla is slightly browned. Flip and repeat. Slice into quarters and serve warm. Enjoy!

These make 4 quesadillas, but the recipe can be easily multiplied.
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Maple Crisp Apple Pots

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They say that smelling is half of tasting, but that can’t be true because three other senses are also involved in the all-inclusive sensory experience of eating.  Enter your imagination and try to recall your favorite food memories.  Taste and smell are crucial components, but sight and touch and sound are essential as well.

For example, some of my favorite food memories don’t involve taste or smell at all.  I used to watch my dad eat breakfast in the morning.  He would have toast with butter or apple butter, and would sit at the table with a mug of hot coffee and his newspaper.  There was something about the way he would take a bite from a buttery slice of toast that invariably drooped down in the center, fold over a page of the newspaper and then take a long audible sip of coffee.  It looked like the best meal in the world.  I fully enjoyed the experience without tasting a morsel myself.

I have many voyeuristic food memories like that including watching: the way Denzel Washington chews his gum in Remember the Titans, or death discovering peanut butter, or Babette preparing her feast…and who knew that even this grotesque concoction could seem enticing?  And food in literature opens up a whole other world of sensual experience that I’ll need to devote many posts to in the future.

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Or sometimes it’s the texture of the food that gives it its charm.  My grandma used to make a quick breakfast for me when I went to her house that she must have learned during wartime or the great depression or some such period when creativity was a necessary aid for scrimping on ingredients to make something out of nothing.  She’d combine together one poached egg with some butter and a hunk of bread in a pan and then put everything into a mug and hand it over with a fork.  To me it seemed like quite a decadent little feast, and I think most of the appeal came from the combination of textures: fluffy eggs, toasty bread, and hints of butter.  The same can be said about my childhood obsession with the tapioca pudding my mom used to bring home, where half the pleasure consisted in savoring the slippery feel of the little tapioca pearls before swallowing them down with their surrounding clouds of creamy pudding.

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So what does all this have to do with today’s treat? Well nothing much except that the wonderful potency of the fragrant cinnamony apples brings back memories of Thanksgiving mornings when we used to borrow the oven of our neighbors who were away in order to accommodate all the cooking required to host a Thanksgiving army of people.  Our house smelled like roasting turkey and sounded like chaos and March of the Wooden Soldiers (which plays each Thanksgiving at 9am), while the neighbors’ house was empty and quiet and smelled like apple pie.  It was fun running back and forth with my mom to check on the cooking process, and escape and re-enter the mayhem of home.

So there’s nothing more to say about these baked apples except to note that they hit up all five senses.  They smell like all the best apple baking aroma memories.  Each bite holds a treasure trove of texture varieties.  They taste like comfort and home.  They look like the best of autumn, and they give a pleasing little crunchy chew.

Ingredients:

4 apples of your choice
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter (if you want to make these vegan, just leave out the butter)

Preheat the oven to 375° Core and hollow out the apples while leaving their exteriors in tact. Dice the interior of the apples and mix with all the ingredients except the butter. Stuff each apple. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with water and place them upright inside the dish. Top each one with a pat of butter and bake for 35 minutes. Serve warm. Enjoy!

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PS> A bonus treat for making it through the post. Watch this video of a Norwegian guy finding the caches of food that he hid for himself after days of arctic hiking.

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.
 

Ramblings on Photography and Food

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The photo above is the view from my window this morning. Growing up, my family always had a paucity of pictures.  We have one half-filled album of baby pictures for the whole family and not everyone is included.  When the moment comes where one of us is required procure a photo collage for a yearbook, panic and frustration ensues.  If we happen to remember to bring a camera on vacation, you can be sure that the subject matter will consist of birds in their natural environment and scenic views.  Perhaps one or two of us will be captured in the periphery of the lens, but it will probably be more coincidental than intentional.  We managed to take a family picture at Christmas this year, mostly because our persevering sister-in-law somehow convinced everyone that we’d be be grateful for it later on, but it was still a torturous experience. My sister Lizzy is also contributing to improvements in our situation with her love of photography and good eye for capturing candid moments.

I can’t say the same for myself. While living in Mexico and Lebanon I barely took pictures.  In two of my visits to Europe I did not take any pictures at all.  When I went to see a friend in Kenya, I was extremely determined to document my memories, but I still felt as though touting a camera everywhere made me less present to the moment and put a barrier between myself and my first-hand experience of the world.  Do I regret not having visual mementos?  Absolutely.  Will that regret push me to remember my camera in the future?  Probably not, unfortunately.

Enter the food blog.  It seems that cooking (and, let’s be honest, instagram) is already ushering forth miraculous changes in my life.  Suddenly I am not only remembering to snap pictures, but I am also doing the very best my amateur self can do to find good lighting and flattering angles.  Unfortunately, last evening, I caved to my hunger and failed to record evidence of the mouth-watering meal that my dad prepared.  Words will have to suffice.   The smells crept through the house before I had the chance to peek into the oven and see what they were originating from.  There were slabs of pink salmon served atop toasty kale in a pan alongside wedges of orange.  On the stovetop were slices of zucchini that had been coaxed to perfection with the surprising addition of some buttery cinnamon concoction.  The tastes presented themselves one after another until they united in a sensational medley.  It was picture worthy, yes, but I couldn’t wait for the superfluous photographic set-up.  Despite my new picture-snapping habit, there are still times when it will ruin the moment.

So, although I really appreciate the art of photography, I am still a bit wary of it for myself. My caution is not to let capturing the moment for the future take precedence over living in the moment itself. In any case, I do wish I had a picture of last night’s meal. And about that meal, eat salmon in the wintertime as well as the summer. Its B vitamins will boost the metabolism; its mineral content of selenium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium will regulate the thyroid and strengthen the bones and muscles, and its omega-3 fats will support healthy cardiac functions. Just be sure to buy wild-caught as opposed to farm-raised salmon. Salmon is simple and delicious, and I’ll certainly be posting a recipe along with photographic accompaniment in the near future.