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.

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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!

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.

Sesame-Seared Salmon with Spinach

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There is something fishy going on.  My pictures keep getting erased from my phone.  I actually have a whole slew of beautiful food that I can no longer account for, and in this day and age, you can’t just put up a post without photographic evidence.  So I guess I’ll have to make everything all over again, or at least re-evaluate and figure out which recipes tasted the best anyway.

This salmon was a winner, but it seems this fish just does not like all the attention, or maybe it’s the camera itself that is sick of my new-founded picture snapping habits.  I’ve had to re-create the meal three times over and I’m starting to get pretty suspicious.  Good thing there’s always Elvis to remind me that my relationship with salmon is worth the time and effort.  Love requires commitment, and it finally paid off to persevere through my suspicions.  Plus it afforded me the opportunity to eat more salmon and work on anger management– a clear win-win situation.

Thanks to BBC Food for the recipe, which I tweaked to match my ingredients. Thanks to all the recent salmon sales that have ensured me with a freezer full of expectant pink fillets.  This particular preparation leaves the kitchen smelling wonderfully similar to a sushi bar.

Ingredients:

1 lb fillet of salmon (or a similar amount)
4 lemons
3 tbsp sesame oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
4 large handfuls of spinach

In a large pan, heat the sesame oil. Coat on side of the salmon in sesame seeds and lay seed-side down in the hot oil. Let it brown over medium-high heat. Flip it and begin to brown the other side. Sprinkle the chopped cilantro over the side with the sesame seeds. In a bowl, combine the juice of four lemons with the soy sauce and stir. Pour the mixture over the salmon, cover and reduce heat to low until salmon has been cooked through. It won’t take too long, as the lemon alone can “cook” the salmon. Remove from heat and wilt the spinach in the extra juices of the pan. Serve hot. Enjoy!

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(^^By this point I had run out of cilantro, but it was just fine. I ate it with little sweet peppers instead.^^)

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!

Lola’s Chicken Adobo and Brown Rice

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(^^One of those times where I was too busy stuffing my face to worry about silly things like good photos^^)

I have lived in 7 different houses throughout the course of my childhood, and it just so happens that I have had the same set of neighbors in pretty much all of these locations. We haven’t tried to figure out the chicken-or-egg of who was following who around, but it does seem rather fishy how my family always ended up around the block or down the road or across the street from this family. Anyway, they also happen to be my godparents and I happen to be good friends with their kids, so its a win-win situation. They are half Filipino.

The other night I ate in their home for dinner, as I tend to do, and we ate a prince of a meal called chicken adobo. I was sitting there in awe of what was entering my mouth (and it wasn’t even the first time I had partaken of this delicate masterpiece), when Lola, the little grandmother chef-of-the-night came in. I asked her for her recipe and the gist of the whole thing is simply: Buy a chicken and cut it up and then stick it in a pot with equal parts soy sauce and vinegar. Throw in an onion and some garlic, bring it to a boil and then let it simmer away until the meat is falling off the bones and the chicken has had time to sit in the savory juices and absorb it all up unto itself. Then it’s your turn to absorb the chicken into your lucky little stomach. And in my case, as it was made by Lola, I know there was a lot of love thrown into the pot as well. Lola is quite an amazing woman with an unmistakable laugh that escapes her with (no joke) every sentence she speaks. She’s this steady, faithful and strong woman with a generous heart of gold. You’re lucky to have her recipe.

It is with utmost reverence to Lola and her years of cooking up delicious things that I present to you this Chicken Adobo.

Ingredients:

1 free range organic chicken, cut into parts
2/3 cup soy sauce
2/3 cup vinegar
1 yellow onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic

2 cups basmati rice

Put everything in a pot (except the rice), bring to a boil and then let it simmer for about an hour. In a separate pot, cook the rice with 4 cups of water on low until moisture is fully absorbed.

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When you can’t find the garlic cloves, look behind Marcus’s fishbowl. He’s sneaky like that and loves to hide the garlic. When everything is finished, the chicken will be extremely tender and well-marinated, and there will be lots of extra sauce in the pot. Serve the chicken over the rice and spoon extra juices on top.

Cauliflower Zucchini Curry

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The weather has been calling for lots of soups and stews lately, with all this dampness hanging in the air and making everyone sick. Luckily, this curry happens to be a great defense for the immune system, in large part because of its spices. Cumin and turmeric are well known for their healing and fortifying properties. The carrot juice provides the vitamin A, while the kale is chock-full of wonderful vitamins. Both the cauliflower and zucchini are anti-inflammatory vegetables with B vitamins. Cauliflower also contains stores of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin K.
I like using cauliflower because of my impossible weakness for the underdog in every situation. It seems cauliflower doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, and if there’s anyone who will side with the losing team, its me. Cauliflower is making a slow come-back these days, as it should, because it is extremely versatile and can be incredibly tasty when treated properly. I like to think that I am playing my part by making this warm toasty curry. This dish is packed with flavor, spice and color, and it’s just the thing to chase away the blues that can come with too many rainy days.

Ingredients

2 medium yellow zucchinis
1/2 head cauliflower
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
1 can crushed or diced tomatoes
2/3 cup pure carrot juice (about 2 large carrots steamed and juiced)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ginger
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In a medium size pot, simmer together the tomatoes, carrot juice, and half of the minced garlic on low heat. Stir in one tsp of curry powder along with the cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, coriander and ginger. Dice the zucchini and divide the cauliflower into small florets. (I used blended cauliflower that I had on hand from my cauliflower pizza crust, which also worked fine). Heat olive oil over a stove top and saute the zucchini for about 10 minutes or until browned. Remove from oil and add to the pot with the tomato curry sauce. While oil is still hot, add the onion. Saute for about two minutes, then add the cauliflower to the pan and saute for about 8 minutes. Lightly salt, then add the garlic and saute together for a few more minutes until brown. Add to the tomato curry. Stir everything together and add the second teaspoon of curry powder, the rest of the salt, and the chopped kale. Simmer on low until kale has wilted. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Serves 4
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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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Winter Ratatouille

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I say winter ratatouille because of one key distinction between this dish and the alternative I might make in the summer.  I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes, and because of this, I also altered the technique for the layering of the vegetables.  If you know me well, you know that I love and respect tomatoes too much to disgrace their good name by buying a fresh tomato in the winter.  The winter offers tasteless mealy pale imitations that come from God knows where.  Don’t do it.

I began with Julia’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking simply because she throws each group of vegetables over some hot olive oil and sautes them slightly before putting them together in the stew, thereby calling forth the separate flavors of each before they are combined together.  I like that, and it certainly worked for me here. After that, I kind of did my own thing, not because I think I can do it better than Julia, but because my amateur self is still bad at following directions.

Disclaimer: I did not use parsley.  Can you call it ratatouille without the parsley? I’m not sure.  I didn’t have any, but to be fair I did use lots and lots of thyme in its place, and in my book you can never go wrong with thyme.  In fact, it might taste even better this way. I’ll try to remember to do a taste comparison at some point.

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
2 large zucchinis
1 orange bell pepper (any bell pepper works; I chose orange for aesthetic purposes)
1 yellow onion
2 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 head garlic (you can douse it with olive oil, slice off the rough end of the head, and stick it in the oven at 400° for 10 minutes and then the cloves will slip right out of their casings)
7 tbsp olive oil
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 handful fresh thyme
1 tbsp salt

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(^^Hannah helped slice even with her Hulk arm. What a trooper.^^)

Preheat oven to 350.° Slice the vegetables into thin circles and separate them. Toss them with a light sprinkling of salt, basil and oregano. Heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on a stovetop. Taking one bowl at a time, lay the vegetables over the hot oil and brown them slightly on both sides. Add more oil to the pan as needed, and heat before sauteing. Use a deep baking dish (its actually a casserole dish but I hate the word “casserole”) and layer the vegetables into it, starting with the eggplant, the zucchini, the tomatoes, the peppers and then the onions. After the first layer, top with whole roasted garlic cloves. Slice them once or twice if they are very large. Remove the thyme leaves from half of the sprigs of thyme and sprinkle over the top. Repeat the entire process. Cover the dish and set in the oven for 40 minutes. Enjoy!
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(^^Before it’s been cooked^^)
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(^^Also good over salad^^)

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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