YES A STICK OF BUTTER IS THREE TIMES THE PRICE, BUT IT'S ORGANIC AND WAS BLESSED BY A SHAMAN, SO...
(Photo: Morning coffee musings)
I've gotten into a terrible habit of thinking that Whole Foods is the only supermarket around - it honestly doesn't occur to me that I have other options.
Sure, when I'm looking to pick up quality meat or produce, Whole Foods makes absolute sense - great, organic produce and meat I can feel good about eating. I mean as good as any California carnivore can feel about eating meat - it's a vegan world out here, and we just live in it.
But when it comes to picking up a loaf of bread, a pack of sugar, or a tin of tomatoes, the idea that I drive straight to Whole Foods, spend twenty minutes going round and round a parking lot, trying to find a spot before another, decidedly un-zen Yogi gets it first and then somehow end up spending $30 on three yogurts and a juice that promises me happiness and complete detoxification (wait...what?), baffles me. I'm generally a smart girl, but this just seems dumb.
Why is it that I forsake the aisles of the more reasonably priced and perfectly acceptable markets within a stone's throw of where I live and work, for a place that makes me feel like an asshole for forgetting to bring my own bag?
Perhaps it's because Whole Foods just makes me feel so damned good the minute I walk in. I mean, like, instantly virtuous.
(Photo: The intoxicating plenty of the produce department)
As I enter through the automated doors, I am greeted by a blast of cold air so forceful that it practically lifts my skirt, and sends my (somewhat) coiffed hair into utter turmoil. Irritating, yes, but I'll let it slide, because the essence of wholesome goodness lies spread out before me.
And as I make it past the wind tunnel, I realize that, symbolically, it probably cleansed me of the filthy, non-organic and undoubtedly GMO'd world that lies beyond it. That's one theory, anyway.
Scoping out the produce department, I gaze out at a multi-colored sea of jewel-toned fruits and vegetables, and instantly realize that it's made up of, among other things, equal parts Meyer and Lulu Lemons. And here, right off the bat, I learn my first lesson. If you think Whole Foods is simply a supermarket, you're mistaken. Whole Foods is a lifestyle. You buy what it has to offer, take it home, consume it (preferably raw), then come back to shop for more, dressed in spandex and lycra to show off exactly what this lifestyle will do for you. To find someone in non-work out attire, is like trying to find a grey hair in Tom Selleck's moustache - much harder than the laws of the universe would suggest.
I look down, in mild panic, to check my attire, and realize I'm in leggings, sneakers and a mildly sweaty, post-work out tank top - a sigh of relief.
As I make my way from produce to meats and seafood, I glance at the cases filled with gleaming, glassy-eyed fish and plump, pink steaks and I think 'tonight, I will feast!' I envision a Game of Thrones style banquet spread across my kitchen table. Legs of lamb, whole baked fish and steaks the size of platters, all perfectly prepared for gluttonous indulgence.
(Photo: The seafood department)
Then I see that a rib-eye is $42 a pound, and I think 'I should probably cut back on my meat consumption.' Aren't cows a huge problem in this country, anyway? All that methane gas. Global warming. I mean, did you watch Cowspiracy? Even though the cows, chickens and pigs of Whole Foods all had names, roamed on more real estate than I do, and probably volunteered for the ultimate sacrifice, I'd better just do eggs tonight. Eggs are responsible. And the eggs here come from 'happy chickens,' so everybody wins.
Next up, it's dry goods. Now, this is where I really get into trouble. This is where I pick up tins of garbanzo beans, tomatoes and coconut milk, along with a bag of brown rice and a packet of toilet paper. This is where the brain cells start to falter a little. Did I really just put toilet paper from Whole Foods in my shopping cart? Yes, absolutely. It's totally recycled and comes from 'happy trees.' (OK, I made that up. But I'm telling you, once your step through those doors, you start drinking the Kool Aid.)
Then there's the moment when I can't pick between the lesser of too many evils. 'Ok, so gluten is the worst, right? So, I have to get gluten-free. But if I'm replacing wheat with corn, am I making an even bigger mistake? What about rice? Is rice ok? And what the hell does guar gum do anyway? I'll just get the organic one. Wait, they're all organic.' Total. Panic. So I grab a bag that has the healthiest looking packaging, and realize I'm about to spend $8 on a pack of noodles. I consider putting it back, when I remember that I'm investing in myself, that you only live once, and that you should strive to be the best version of yourself you can possibly be. The noodles are coming with me. (I think they pump something in through the vents. I swear.)
Finally, I make my way through the cheese and deli department (with ease, I might add - it's the one area of Whole Foods I seem to get past without much trouble), only to see lines of the city's healthiest, happiest and most spiritually fulfilled individuals queueing up to pay, and I think, 'ugh, why didn't I go to Trader Joe's? Nobody cares what's in your basket, and they have dill pickle flavored popcorn!'
The reality is, where you shop to stock your fridge has become a bit of a statement on where you are in life. I mean, when did a grocery store become a scene? When did we start having to dress up to buy toilet paper? And for that matter, when did dressing up, mean wearing work-out clothes, you may or may not have worked out in?
The answer is, I'm not sure. I think it may have happened somewhere around the same time we became aware of the fact that relying on a diet of dill pickle popcorn and processed freezer meals, probably isn't the key to longevity.
Yes, it's a positive change. Yes, I wear yoga pants just like rest of them (usually because I just worked out, but let's be real, they're super comfortable, and you look great walking away). And yes, I will continue to shop for most of what I consume at Whole Foods, because despite all the anxiety this place subliminally induces, and the fact that it quietly judges you as you wander its aisles, it's (mostly) a healthier way forward. Or at least its ethos and much of what it contains, is a healthier way forward.
All I'm saying is, paper towels are paper towels. No matter how many times they've been recycled (which is probably best left a bit of a mystery), it's perfectly acceptable to spend considerably less on their equally recycled counterpart, somewhere else.
As I walk out the door, $12 happiness/detox juice in hand, the anxiety induced by the last 20 minutes of critical decision making seems to melt away. I jump in my car, turn the key in the ignition and realize I'm about to make a dinner so wholesome, it will literally turn back the hands of time.
(Apparently, it's a slow come-down.)
When you go in for almond milk, and come out with an octopus.
So, some people buy shoes, others buy electronics, and a few, like my father, buy a massive gas grill when they already have one, because it happened to be a really, really good deal (love you, dad!). Impulse buys vary from person to person, and they range from the insignificant to the 'what-the-hell-did-I-just-do?!' For me, impulse buys tend to be food related - and nine times out of ten, it's something I've never cooked before.
Cut to this morning. I walked into the supermarket to pick up a carton of almond milk, and 20 minutes later, I walked out with an octopus. An eight-legged. one and a half pound sucker with its head still attached, resembling something Sigourney Weaver may have encountered in any one of the Alien movies. Because, why not, I guess.
As I drove home, I had a heightened awareness of the paper bag on the passenger seat next to me, and a growing realization that I had absolutely no idea how to cook the octopus inside it, or what to serve it with, for that matter. There's also something equal parts cool and unsettling about bringing home food that still looks like the animal it used to be. When that animal has four times the amount of arms you do, being sat in traffic with a bag you know can't possibly be rustling, but somehow seems like it is, is ever so slightly unnerving.
Once the two of us made it back to my apartment, I unwrapped my brown paper packet and stared straight into the rear end of an upside down cephalopod, that seemed like it was either going to ink me, or possibly jump up and wrap its cupped tentacles around my stumped face.
After a moment of ever-so-slight intimidation, and the words 'what the hell am I gonna do with you,' actually audibly floating out of my mouth, I pulled out my phone and consulted the two individuals I knew would know the answer - my dear friend and the talented chef of one of my favorite restaurants, The Little Door, and Google. Chef said poach and braise and Google said do whatever Chef says.
Not sure whether to keep my newly acquired guest's head on or not, I figured I'd save him what little dignity he had left, and me the chore of pulling a limp head off a squishy body, by submerging him whole. The head I could deal with later.
If you've never dunked a whole, slippery and greyish-blue octopus into a pot of simmering water, I think you'll find it morbidly satisfying. Call me strange, but it's kind of amazing to see its color turn from lackluster to purpley-pink and the arms go from long and stringy, to perfectly curled and plump. I know, I know. I need to get out more, and should probably be on somebody's 'watch list' - but it's just so damn cool! This is the kind of thing that makes me really happy.
This is also when I realize, it's a good thing I live alone, because guys, poaching a whole octopus in your kitchen is like cooking sardines at home (which I did once, during week one of living with my great friend and former roommate. Sorry, Amy! At least they were tasty, right?) - it's fragrant, to say the least. But, if you don't mind your entire 800 square foot apartment smelling like Sydney Harbor on a hot day, then you've got nothing to worry about. It's basically like a trip to the seaside. And by basically. I mean, in the sense that you're just as land-locked as before, so nothing like it at all.
As the lid to the pot rattled while my new-found friend poached, I couldn't help but peek my head around the corner, into the kitchen, just to check that none of his eight legs were prying out over the edge. They were not. My inner Sigourney breathed a sigh of relief.
Next up, braising.
I emptied the pot of the poaching liquid, which had turned a slight shade of purple, and started anew, with clean water, seasoning and a little more confidence. Stage 2.
Two hours of braising seems like a lot of time for such a small creature, but nobody likes octopus you can bounce off the pavement, so two hours to tenderize is what it takes. Two hours also gives you plenty of time to record the adventure that is cooking your impulse buy.
Finally, after much anticipation, I pulled that little beauty out of its braising liquid, plopped it on a cutting board, admired it lovingly, and cut those eight squirmy legs right off its body. It's not personal, it's business. Now I realize I could probably eat the head, but honestly, it felt like that was getting a little too intimate, so today, it was arms and that's it.
The final step in this quick-shopping-trip-turned-all-day-project, was to get some color on those arms, by giving them a hard sear on a hot cast iron pan in a little olive oil. Tender on the inside, browned and slightly crisp on the outside. What every octopus strives to be when it grows up.
Tossed with some garlicky, tomatoey pasta and just a sprinkling of chili flakes, this guy was everything I could have hoped he would be - tender, flavorful and totally conquered. Somebody give me five - I mean eight!
Ok, your turn....
For the octopus:
For the pasta:
Poach the whole octopus in a large pot of salted water, for 10 minutes. You want the octopus completely submerged.
Remove the octopus from the water, pour out the water, and refill the pot with enough to cover the octopus. Add your 3 smashed garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp chili flakes, 2 strips of lemon peel and some salt. Bring the water to a simmer, cover the pot and braise the octopus for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until completely tender.
Remove the octopus from the water, strain out the lemon peel, chili flakes and garlic cloves, and reserve the water to cook the pasta in.
Cut the legs from the body, into bite sized pieces, and sear them in a cast iron skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil, about two minutes per side. Octopus, done.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, in the reserved braising liquid. If for some reason there isn't enough, just add more water to it. The seasoned water you cooked your octopus in, will flavor the noodles beautifully.
In a small pan, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil and add the minced garlic and chili flakes. Cook for about a minute at medium heat.
Add your tomatoes and cook until soft and blistered, then add in the octopus pieces, and about a tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Once your pasta is cooked, add that to the pan with the tomatoes. Always add the pasta, a little at a time, to the sauce, and not the sauce to the pasta. That way you don't risk too much pasta to too little sauce.
Now dig in, you've certainly earned it.
Oh, as a side note, I got so caught up I forgot the almond milk, of course. God only knows what I'll come home with instead of it next time!
Because I'll jump on a bandwagon, when the bandwagon's been running since the stone age
As I’ve mentioned before, California is a hotbed for the latest in dietary neurosis.
From those who are simply restrictive, to those who follow full-on philosophies on food, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t adhere to some doctrine of diet here. In fact, I could probably count the people I know who don't 'eat a certain way' on one hand (honestly, maybe half a hand), and I admit that I am no exception. To eat with abandon, has become a thing of the past, and the intent to simply bring the needle on the gauge from empty to full died years ago.
‘Man, I’m starving! I’d eat anything', actually means something more along the lines of, ‘Man, I’m starving! Let’s go get vegan, dairy free, gluten free protein patties, with a side of kale chips and a bottle of fermented liquid that still contains remnants of its mother at the murky bottom!’ Because nothing says satiated like a belly full of good bacteria.
I understand that this level of extreme conscious consumption is an act of rebellion against a very recent history of utterly unconscious ingesting and an indication of the acknowledgment that you can't polish off a can of red food dye 40, in lieu of actual, real red fruit, without serious consequence. But man, don't you miss the days of ordering something off the menu, just because it sounded good, and not because it was good for you? 'I'll have the #10, just as it comes, please!' Words that disappeared. (Along with menus that were numbered, for that matter.)
One particular diet that has been quite popular for a few years now, is known as the 'Paleo' diet. For those of you who are not familiar with the ins and outs of eating 'paleolithically', they're fairly straight forward. The idea is to eat a diet similar to that of early man. Meat, fish, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are all acceptable - grains, processed foods and dairy are not (except eggs - eggs are ok, even though they technically fall under the umbrella of 'dairy'.if you're nit-picking). Basically, if you can’t hunt it, pick it or find it, you can’t have it.
Of course I smile at the thought of stone age women running around in yoga pants, with faces full of filler, talking about how their diet makes them feel 'whole' and like they're living up to their fullest potential - but when you think about it, eating food in its most basic form, kind of makes sense. I mean, I’ll grab a handful of real almonds over a ‘healthy’, processed energy bar, any day of the week. If those almonds happened to be covered in chocolate - even better. (I'd like to venture a guess that even the women of the Paleolithic era had a craving now and again, and that, had chocolate been an option, clever manufacturers would now be stamping 'Paleo' on packaged chocolate bars, alongside today's other prerequisite for consumption, 'Gluten-Free.')
So, have I decided to go completely old school and strictly adapt my diet to that of early, early man? No. The thought of giving up on noodles and a really creamy piece of Humbolt Fog is just too terrible. But I'm absolutely down to throw a paleo recipe into my routine, now and then. A recipe like this nut 'bread', for example. I found it while spending a few blissful weeks in Denmark, cooking up a storm for my family, and reaping the rewards late into the light, warm summer evenings.
Recipe adapted from Mad for Livet
Turn your oven to 320* F.
Grease a loaf tin thoroughly and set aside.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and mix really well. You want everything completely incorporated. Don't worry about chopping up the nuts! I know you'll want to, but leave them whole - the bread will still slice beautifully.
Pour the 'batter' into the prepared tin and bake the bread for an hour.
Allow the loaf to cool completely before slicing it with a serrated knife. Keep it, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for a week to 10 days.
I love this bread smeared with butter (I know, not technically paleo, but most Vodka isn't technically gluten-free either, so let's just say everything in moderation and leave it be), and sprinkled with just a little sea salt. Almond butter, honey and pomegranate seeds make this a perfect afternoon snack, too.
I mean, if it tastes good, feels good, and actually has you craving more, I don't care what diet it falls under, i'll take two! As long as I still get kale chips. Kale chips are key, apparently.
Because blending a pumpkin pie into coffee doesn't appeal to everyone
For those of you who didn't get the memo, today marks the first day of fall. It's finally time to break out the sweaters, switch from stone fruits to gourds and gear up for an onslaught of Holidays so relentless, we need a full nine months to recover from them. Move over summer - it's about to get really autumnal up in here.
Some of you may, however, be confused by this. Hadn't fall already started? Well, technically, yes. Even though September 22nd makes the change in seasons official, according to the calendar and the humorously christened weather men and women of the world, most Americans are well aware that fall actually starts when Starbucks tells us it does. Not a day before, and certainly not a day after.
When the iced, milky Frappuccinos of summer give way to 14 pumps of an orangey liquid dubbed 'pumpkin spice', you know you've worn your last tank top of the season. The Pumpkin Spice Latte, affectionately referred to and tagged as a PSL, is a sure sign that, no matter how much you'll be sweating in your woolen scarf and knee-high boots, it's time to cozy up to a fire and instantly become far more sentimental than you have been all year. (Oh those Holiday feels!)
It's truly amazing how the crowds go wild when this one little cup of dessert (because who are we kidding, that's exactly what it is) struts its cinnamoney-sweet legs out from behind the curtain. I'm pretty sure it actually started an entire pumpkin movement - I mean, have you been to Trader Joe's lately? From potato chips to Pop Tarts, it's all pumpkin, all day, and if you're going to make it through the next three months without starving to death, you'd better have a serious affinity for it.
But what if you don't? What if you really only like pumpkin in pie form, and really only on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day? Are you doomed to spend the next few months feeling like you've fundamentally missed the boat and like there must be something decidedly wrong with you for not acknowledging this orange gourd as flavoring suitable for a seasonal beverage?
Nah. You'll be alright. You've got options.
In fact, this time of year offers so many wonderful ways to fill our cups, it's almost overwhelming. The cooler months have us craving our drinks hot, and with heat comes possibility. Think beyond pumpkin. Think infusions. Think toddies. Think brews. Think steaming mugs of warmth, depth and flavor. From non-alcoholic and nourishing to belly-warming with a kick, I encourage you to gulp down everything this last quarter has to offer.
For a start, I'd give this one a whirl.
(You may have noticed that every ingredient in this helps boost your immune system, and is therefore perfect for this transitional time of year.)
In a sauce pot, combine all ingredients, except for the honey, and bring to a boil.
Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to a very soft simmer and keep it that way for 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add in your honey, to taste. Turmeric has a bitter quality and ginger is quite spicy, so the amount of honey you use depends entirely on how sweet you need it.
Sip on this and not only will you feel like you should be sat next to the fire with a scrabble board, blasting Wham's 'Last Christmas' and staring out at the leaves falling from the trees, you'll also feel like you're taking care of yourself. Like you're building up a defense for the brutal months ahead.
Oh, and in case you're worried about when we switch from fall to winter, rest assured, your favorite coffee house will keep you well abreast of when it's time to break out your mittens and deck the halls - Eggnog Latte season's just around the corner, people. Phew.
(As a side note, my father just asked me what 'joy juice' you could throw in here to kick it up a level. Bourbon, dad, definitely bourbon.)
*Note: For this recipe I use Manuka honey. This honey, which is harvested in New Zealand, is really high in antibacterial properties, making it the perfect immunity booster for flu season. Manuka honey is, however, on the pricier side, so if you're not interested in spending the money on it, you can certainly use whatever honey tickles your fancy.
Sure eggs are flashy, but the true test of any breakfast joint is what they can do without them
When it comes to breakfast, eggs seem to have cornered the market. Poached, scrambled, fried, boiled and baked, these babies get all the love. And whether they're smothered in butter, cheese, cream or the like, it seems that these days, the more over the top you go with them, the better.
And though breakfast is meant for consumption, in today's Instagram-able world, it's also meant for picture taking. Chefs may as well serve their food cold, because the reality is, by the time table 42 finishes with the photoshoot bound straight for the glossy pages of, umm, Facebook, the only heat left at the table is radiating from the back of an iPhone, struggling with storage issues. (#nomnom and #meltinyourmouth only apply if you ate the food while it still really was 'nom nom' and before it actually melted on your plate.)
It seems that for eggs in particular, it's all about the close up shot. Yolks oozing, omelets browning and edges crisping in butter, render pictures so salacious, it's no wonder the term 'food porn' was coined, because eggs are, in fact, the porn stars of breakfast. And they will always smile for the camera.
When you're dining at a restaurant, chefs know this - that's why the egg dishes get all the attention. Even the decidedly unsexy egg-white-only dishes get names like 'The Warrior Omelet' and 'The Personal Trainer Scramble', because eggs, no matter how they're served, are where it's at.
You know where it's not at? Oatmeal. Glance at a restaurant's breakfast menu and you'll find it listed somewhere between granola and the '20% gratuity included on parties of 6 or more' line, as just that, 'Oatmeal'. And more often than not, it's really poorly done. Dry, lumpy and under-salted, oatmeal seems to be the red headed stepchild of AM dining. But you know what? I find that a bit of a cop out. If you can't make something as simple as a bowl of boiled oats taste good, then you can keep your big-busted, camera ready eggs - we all know how much butter it took to get them to look like that anyway.
This is why, the first time I dine at a restaurant for breakfast, more often than not, I order the oatmeal. I consider it the litmus test of a place, and if it passes, well then maybe we can talk oozing eggs next time.
Add the coconut oil to a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the apples to the skillet and sprinkle over the cinnamon. Cook the apples for about 10-15 minutes, until soft, stirring in 1 tablespoon of honey, 5 minutes before removing them from the heat.
Meanwhile, bring your water to a boil in a small sauce pot, add the oats and salt (salt is absolutely essential! Unsalted oatmeal is a crime), cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. If you're using 'quick cook' oats, your oats will cook in as little as 5-7 minutes, but for regular steel cut oats it will take considerably longer. Read your packet for cooking instructions. If you notice that the water is evaporating too quickly, add a little more as needed. You want your oats soft, cooked through and not dried out.
Whisk the remaining tablespoon of honey into the greek yogurt.
Spoon your oatmeal into a bowl, top it with the apples and yogurt, and sprinkle over some pomegranate seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with a little extra honey, if you're so inclined.
Sure, it seems silly to extract yourself from the depths of your warm, comfortable bed on a weekend morning, drag your tired bones all the way to a restaurant, inevitably stand in line for far longer than the food actually warrants, and then order oatmeal - I know that. I'm tellin' ya though, when you bother to perfect the simple, everything else is just icing on the cake.
because Nothing Puts hair on your chest, like hot pink soup.
You may or may not have had Aquavit. This depends entirely on how many crazy Danes, Swedes and Norwegians you have in your life. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, I think it's time to rectify that situation.
The Russians have vodka, the Mexicans have tequila and the Scandinavians have Aquavit, or as we Danes call it, snaps. This stuff will warm you up on a cold winter's day, keep you singing long into the night on a warm summer evening and take you by surprise when you realize that it's only a tiny shot-ful, until you've had 12.
This Nordic tipple comes in many different varieties, ranging from clean and pure, to spiced and infused, and at 37 - 40% proof, it packs a hell of a punch. Think of it like gasoline, but, you know, herbaceous.
Usually enjoyed with food, snaps is brought to the table at celebrations and casual Sunday lunches alike, and is a staple in Scandinavian dining. For my family, it is most notably enjoyed at Christmas time, as we stand, freezing our 'numser' off in the middle of a sub-zero forest on the 26th of December, enjoying a picnic of leftovers, while the youngest members of the family complain about how damned cold it is.
They're right, of course. It's stupidly cold. To any who pass us by, we look like a band of lunatics, dressed in every article of clothing we own, with fingers on the verge of frostbite, eating open-faced sandwiches, singing songs, and drinking snaps.
Photo: My sis (on the right) and I, wrapped in fur, boiler suits, and about four additional layers.
Lunatics? Yes. But the snaps makes us forget how cold it is. All children in our family eventually understand that once you graduate from warm cider (which they mostly use to dunk their frozen hands in, only to realize that it's even colder once they pull them out! Been there, done that) to this medicinal liquor, the picnic becomes a lot more fun.
The problem is, of course, when you get back from the picnic, the fireplace is roaring, and your internal temperature normalizes. I believe the saying is something like 'one snaps, two snaps, three snaps, floor.' Or is that tequila? Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I say.
It's at this point that we enjoy a big bowl of warming soup to comfort, fill and satisfy. Mom usually whips up a big pot of hearty sausage and bean soup, but I like the idea of pairing another Scandinavian staple, beets, with just a touch of Aquavit. The beets are earthy and sweet, the liquor adds a pop of herby depth, and the (very non-Nordic) coconut milk, mellows everything out. Plus, it's hot pink soup - reason enough I do believe.
To a large pot, over medium heat, add two tablespoons of coconut oil, the diced onion and all three spices, and sauté until the onions are translucent, stirring often so the spices don’t burn, about 15 minutes.
At this point, deglaze your pot with a 1/4 cup of Aquavit. This is absolutely my favorite part. When the spirit hits the heat, the smell is just incredible. It’s herby and piney, and brings back memories of long lunches and never-ending evenings. Cook, allowing the alcohol to burn off slightly, while retaining some of the liquid, about 2 minutes.
To the pot, add your whole, cleaned beets, coconut milk and vegetable broth. You want the beets completely covered. They obviously vary in size, so if you’re having a hard time getting the liquid to cover them, you can certainly slice the beets in half.
Cover the pot, and cook, at a steady simmer, for 45 minutes to an hour, until the beets are completely cooked through.
Remove the beets from the liquid, allow them to cool to the point where you can handle them, and, using a couple of paper towels, slide the skins off the beets.
Return the beets to the liquid, add the remaining two tablespoons of Aquavit, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for 5 minutes longer.
Finally, using an immersion blender, blender or Vitamix, carefully blend the soup until completely smooth. Serve the soup topped with some thinly sliced radishes, for crunch and bite.
So, here's some free advice: Make friends with a Scandinavian. Soon enough, you'll be sat long into the night, singing songs, telling tales and laughing wildly. And with any luck, you'll find yourself frostbitten in the middle of a dark forest, surrounded by 22 crazy loons, delightfully numb and happy.
As a bachelor, my dad had a trick or two up his sleeve.
My father, native of Yonkers, New York, former Pan Am captain and Marine Corps veteran for life, knows a thing or two, about a thing or two.
Dad could fly 288 passengers safely from New York to New Delhi, rocket down the double blacks of Austrian, snow-capped mountains, and solve almost every cantankerous calculus problem my sister and I encountered. (We're still working on things like navigating Instagram and programming the iPhone, but hey, that's what daughters are for!)
Though no son or daughter likes to speculate too much about 'life before mom' (what life before mom?!), it's pretty clear to me that a career as an airline pilot for the world's most glamorous airline, Pan Am, may have come with a few perks. Perks like flight attendants and free travel. Or was it free travel with flight attendants? I'm not sure. I won't ask. In any case, my dad was either in uniform or a bomber jacket. You get the idea.
As a happy bachelor, who literally traveled the world, dad was armed with three things: A moustache (it was the 70's, after all), a passport and a recipe - Breakfast soufflé.
The significance of this recipe didn't really become clear to me until later in life, but I get it now. Any man who can whip up a soufflé, is ahead of the game. He actually scoffs at the game.
So here you have it, in his own words, as emailed to me by my father...
"Tess, this actually has a name. It is affectionately known as the 'I had you last night, breakfast soufflé' - perhaps that should be left out.
Put the butter in the soufflé dish and put into a 425*F oven until the butter melts and starts to bubble, about 10 minutes. Watch it! The minute you turn around, it burns!
Beat together eggs, milk, sugar, flour and salt until smooth.
Throw the mixture into the bubbly butter as soon as you take the dish from the oven.
Return the whole thing to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Sweeten your fruit as you think necessary and dump it into the center of the soufflé.
Since his days of bachelor-dom, dad has expanded his repertoire to include a few other recipes, including bolognese, damn-fine chili and an oh-so-fancy scallop dish with fried sage, but this sweet number is just a little legendary. It truly is delicious. I mean, it would have to be. Mom was a flight attendant. The rest is history.
Ok, so they're not really noodles, but damn they're delicious.
Living in Los Angeles can be a magical thing. The weather is always beautiful, you’re a stone’s throw from the beach and when the urge to slalom down snow-kissed mountains strikes, you’re never really more than two hours away from après ski. I mean, skiing. You’re never more than two hours away from skiing.
But living in Los Angeles can be exhausting, too. It is the birth place of so many trends, fads and philosophies that range from the rational to the downright ridiculous, that, in a place where it’s already hard to keep your head on your shoulders, it’s even harder to keep it on straight.
This is particularly true when it comes to food and diet. It’s a zoo out here and I swear, the rules change every week.
If you thought, for example, that the act of separating peas and carrots on a plate was simply the neurotic behavior of the under-10s, and that it eventually just gives way to the realization that everything ends up in the same place anyway, you’re quite mistaken.
Here we separate, substitute and eliminate according to the latest ‘it’ doctor, hot celebrity or current moon phase. Yup, we take our cues from Bieber and how the moon pulls the tides, in equal measure, because life’s about balance.
We will happily tell you that a gluten-free noodle ‘tastes so much like the real thing, you’ll never know the difference,’ and that ‘most things actually taste better steamed and unseasoned.’ But believe me, we’ve rehearsed that. We’ve spent many meals forcing down chewy, spongey noodles with flavor akin to cardboard, and a fair few fillets o’ fish you wouldn’t serve to your cat, in the name of health.
Don’t get me wrong - I subscribe to a fair amount of it. Search my cupboard, and you’ll find a lot of acronyms. GF, DF and Non-GMO feature prevalently as elements on the periodic table that is my diet. It’s hard not to join in. It’s hard to be the only person ordering a steak in a vast sea of herbivores, staring at you, wishing they’d had a chance to adopt the cow you’re eating, before it made its fateful journey to your plate.
I won’t go totally 'celebrity' on you and pretend my go-to snack is an In ’n Out burger with a cupcake chaser (they’re lying, by the way), but, dammit, if I'm going to go all California-clean, it has to taste good.
Food and flavor mean a lot to me, and sacrificing them is not an option. No, I won't do a big bowl of noodles on the reg (because, well, my out-of-whack immune system can't handle it), but I will do a big bowl of zucchini noodles mixed with every other green vegetable I can get my hands on, top it with salmon, and tell myself 'it tastes just like the real thing.'
But it's so damn good anyway.
Using a spiralizer, turn your zucchini into noodles and combine them with the tomato, cucumber, avocado and mustard greens in a large bowl.
Pour over your lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss the ingredients, so that everything is well coated. Season the salad with salt and pepper.
Season your salmon fillet with salt and pepper and heat your pan to medium-high heat, adding the remaining olive oil. Cook the fish 3-4 minutes per side. I like mine a little under, so I keep it to 3, but if you like your fish cooked through, do the full 4 minutes.
As it's a cold salad, I let the fish come to room temp before placing it on top, but you can certainly eat it warm over the 'noodles' if you prefer.
Once you've added your salmon, sprinkle on a few pumpkin seeds and voila! You're basically eating a big bowl of pasta with meat sauce.
No, you're not.
But I'm pretty sure you'll love it anyway.
*If it's just me, I'll usually ask the fishmonger to cut me a fillet of salmon that weighs in at just over a 1/4 lb, from the thickest part of the fish. Often you'll find precut fillets in the fish department that weigh in at about 5-6oz.
When your current drinkable obsession has Beautifying properties, you put it on absolutely everything
Let me start off by saying that if it's good enough for Cleopatra, well then it's good enough for me! That woman had Richard Burton hot on her heels long before the incident with the asp. I mean Anthony. Anthony was hot on her heels. (Though, let's be real, ancient Egypt will always belong to Liz and Dickey.)
The Queen of the Nile was known to use rosewater in her beauty routine, thousands of years ago, long before it became an 'it' ingredient featured in products sold by brands ironically still featuring Elizabeth Taylor in their ad campaigns. It's a magical elixir, rich in antioxidants and skin brightening properties, and if I could take a bath in a tub filled to the brim with it, I would. Rosewater, rose petals, Rosé, bubbles - you feel me, right? I'd step out of that claw foot clean, pure, hair perfectly slicked back, and glowing from the inside out. (Realistically...raccoon-eyed, soaking and suddenly very cold, wishing I had a bottle of detangler. But who needs reality - this is my fantasy and it's perfect!)
So when I was walking the aisles of Whole Foods a while ago, and spotted pretty bottles containing some form of rosewater beverage and the words 'Drink and Be Beautiful' written across them, I thought 'I hear ya, Cleo," and bought six.
I'm normally a sparkling water and kombucha girl, but something about the idea of consuming rosewater, made me feel incredibly virtuous and decidedly sensual.
After checking out, having bought far more than the three tomatoes I had originally come for (Whole Foods is my IKEA), I cracked open a bottle of H2rOse and proceeded to be totally delighted, This floral liquid infused with saffron powder is absolutely delicious. Not too sweet, delicate, really refreshing, and not, as I had feared, like sucking on a bowl of potpourri, in the least. Apparently, beauty doesn't have to be pain!
Since that day of discovery, I've tried to find more ways of enjoying this stuff! I normally have it as is, cold and straight out of the fridge, but yesterday I thought 'let's make something with this!'
Rosewater pairs really well with a Middle Eastern flavor palette, and I was in the mood for dessert. So, I thought I'd make a syrup infused with cardamom using the Wild Berry flavor H2rOse features, and serve it over some coconut milk ice cream with pistachio brittle. Oh. Yes.
For the brittle:
Start by making your brittle.
Combine the sugar, corn syrup and a 1/4 cup of water in a sauce pot, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once the sugar is totally dissolved, reduce the heat ever so slightly (you still want it bubbling at more than a simmer, but you don't want a splatter situation). Cook this for about 4-5 minutes, until a candy thermometer reads 290*F.
Add your pistachios, salt and butter, and stir to combine well. Continue to cook this mixture, until it begins to take on a rich golden color, about 2-3 more minutes. You're looking for the thermometer to hit 300*F.
Pull the mixture off the heat, add your baking soda and spices, stir quickly, and pour the ferociously bubbling mixture onto the pre-oiled baking sheet. Spread it in an even layer, and allow the brittle to cool completely, before breaking it into pieces.
Combine the H2Rose, sugar and cracked cardamom pods in a sauce pot, and over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil.
Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce to a simmer and add the sliced plums. Simmer the plums until really soft, but not totally falling apart - about 10-15 minutes.
Remove the plums with a slotted spoon, and continue to simmer the liquid until it has reduced by half.
Add the reduced liquid to the plums, discard the cardamom pods, and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
Serve the plums over the ice cream with a big piece of brittle and enjoy!
Yes, you're eating ice cream, but it's basically like having a facial, so treat yourself! At least you're not walking out of an esthetician's office with a red, prodded face so covered in creams, serums and balms, that you want to go hide under a rock until your skin finds its way back to a more approachable degree of cleanliness.
It's the little things.
My Guess is that The OC, NYC and BH ladies Don't know how to make a 'frozen Cheese Ring'
Full disclosure: On a night off, when I'm too tired to think and the thought of reaching for a can of dry shampoo and an eye liner sends a wave of mildly agoraphobic panic down my spine, I shut the curtains, open a bottle of wine and (after glancing over my shoulder to make sure the curtains really are tightly sealed) I turn on an episode of Bravo's The Real Housewives.
Don't judge me, I've got that covered. "I was just so exhausted last night. I spent the evening on the couch watching 60 Minutes and most of Lars von Trier's canon of work." Total. Lies. I sat in a pool of entertained disgust and watched privileged, grown women be 'real' in situations so unreal, I can't believe they haven't changed the name, based on semantics.
The only way I can possibly justify this, is by reminding myself I'm so tired that it would actually be detrimental to the health of my brain, to exercise it in moments like this. I'm just listening to my body, dammit. (Right??)
So, yesterday, with an evening off and a brain so fried, I couldn't possibly subject anyone else to it, I found myself at home with a bowl of pho and a few blissful hours of 'alone time'.
Before sinking into the couch, I glanced at the contents of my bookcase. Amid a vast collection of cook books, I spotted one I had forgotten I owned, and before I knew it, I was tuned into an entirely different breed of housewife.
A Book of Practical Recipes for the Housewife was given to me years ago by a good friend, who picked it up at a used book store, and thought I'd love it. He was right, I absolutely adore it. Though I cannot figure out what year it was published by The Detroit Times, it was long enough ago that the pages are yellowed, musty and filled with gems like 'chicken a la king', 'jellied cucumber salad' and what is referred to as a 'frozen cheese ring'.
Though I'm up for trying anything once, I can't say that the thought of combining canned pineapple, maraschino cherries, pimentos and walnuts with mayonnaise, cream cheese and gelatin, has me breaking out the mixing bowls. Yes, I'm sure it was all the rage at the time, but some things are best left frozen and jellied in the past. Like almost anything in aspic and half the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' faces.
Another one that caught my eye, was the 'eggless chocolate cake' - then's answer to now's flourless chocolate cake. A simpler time, when restaurant-goers would look at a dessert menu and ask, "umm, do you guys have anything eggless but full of gluten and dairy?"
Along with a fun collection of throwback recipes, the book also includes helpful tips on how to be the embodiment of what would now be referred to as a domestic goddess. Things like removing blood, bluing and medicine stains - skills essential to the day-to-day goings-on of a functional household.
As I leafed through the pages of this small, rectangular time capsule, filled with freeze frames of a time that had no interest in molecular gastronomy, fusion cooking or anything topped with foam, I felt an immense sense of comfort. It made me think of my grandmother, of how my parents always seem to have a practical and confident answer (no matter how off-base), and of how I, myself, adult through my day as the housewife of my own solo-household.
Does this mean I'm going cold-turkey on those RHW turkeys? No, probably not - they're entertaining AF. But it's a nice reminder that all that silly frivolity, doesn't hold a candle to a big pot of Chicken a la King and a bottle of red with friends, no matter how tired I am.