Christmas dinner.

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It’s a magical time we’re in now, isn’t it?

Magical except for the constant traffic, frightening encounters with last-minute shoppers, and annual family conflict reenactments. It’s a bummer that life gets stressful during the times we hope to savor; but, hey, this is why we have sugar cookie highs and mulled wine! To keep Christmas sane and the candy canes and silver lanes aglow, my family’s planning a simple Christmas dinner.

We’ll have smoked ham glazed with Byrd & Duncan beer syrup, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, my grandmother’s famous cream of chicken soup dressing, deliciously southern sorghum green beans, and a couple homemade pies. There will be plenty of wine and a cocktail or two. There will be the conversation about civil war ethics, how much we love/hate Charles Dickens, and, of course, a ridiculous amount of laughter, even more than the amount of wine we will drink.

Happy Christmas! Here’s to peace, good food, and your crazy-wonderful family.

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Green Beans with Sorghum and Sesame

Makes enough for 8 as a side. Adapted from Bon Appétit.

  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper & kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sorghum syrup or 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Cook beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, transfer to a bowl of ice water, and let cool. Drain and pat dry.
  2. Toss beans and oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and lightly charred in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk soy sauce, sorghum, sesame seeds, and cumin in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add warm beans and toss to coat.
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Mandarin and cumin salad.

1-DSC_0109-001I moved!
Well… ahem, I speak too soon. Am moving; I’m still in transition, which is a nice way of saying that the apartment is filled wall to wall with suitcases, IKEA boxes, dirty clothes, and a collection of nude statues I forgot I had packed.

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Cosette, my new old blue typewriter. (Aie!)

Cosette, my new old blue typewriter (aie!), above. View from my garden rooftop, far above, and a sunset from Carkeek park, below.

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Needless to say I’m craving a little zen in the midst of my mess. These past days I haven’t had much time to cook and am opting for easy salads instead. One of my recent favorites is a simple early summer salad of crisp hearts of romaine, toasted almonds, and sour-sweet bits of orange sprinkled with poppy seeds. It pairs nicely with a refreshing honey and cumin vinaigrette I recreated from one I tried at Vinaigrette in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yesterday I savored my mandarin and cumin salad with Pacific salmon caught that day, sunset over the city, and a glass of chilled white wine. Wine will help the boxes unpack themselves, won’t it?1-DSC_0103

Honey-Cumin Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil or almond oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tablespoon honey
1 clove of garlic, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of salt

  1. Whisk ingredients together until emulsified and serve over salad of oranges, cucumbers, lettuce, and almonds.

Massaged kale and chocolate vinaigrette.

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“Just massage it with your hands.”

“What?”

“The kale,” my grandmother insists over the phone. Her name is Sandi but I call her Mammy. I think the line is getting fuzzy or she is delusional. Mammy explains her  experience with kale massage, “rub chopped, raw kale with oil and make sure to do it with your hands; you won’t regret it.”

I knew I had to try it.

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Mammy was right; she always is. Now Massaged Kale is one of my collegiate potluck go-to dishes. Massaged Kale takes two minutes to make, is healthy, and tastes great. Plus, there’s a special place in heaven where we can watch Massaged Kale consumers’ faces when they hear about its sensual preparation.

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It’s fun to discuss out of context, but massaged kale is serious business. Kale is a cancer-fighting wonder food packed with vitamins A, K, and C and minerals like calcium and iron. The hearty, green leaf also contains bile acid sequestrates that lower cholesterol and decrease absorption of dietary fat. So why don’t most people call kale a favorite food?  Because it’s extremely fibrous, kale is difficult to digest and requires steaming, baking, or frying, processes that leach many of kale’s beneficial nutrients.

This is where the massage comes in.

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With Massaged Kale, you get raw nutrients and kale that tastes good too.

For a Valentine’s day dinner twist, I’ve included a recipe for chocolate vinaigrette to drizzle over your Massaged Kale. It’s so good, I promise you’ll earn your own cook’s massage.

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Massaged Kale

serves 2 as a side.

1/2 bunch of kale (around 1/2 lb), sliced in thin ribbons
1 Tablespoon oil (use olive oil for less flavor, truffle oil for more flavor)
pinch of salt and pepper

  1. Mix kale, oil, salt, and pepper in a large serving bowl. Massage kale with finger tips until kale is tender, darker green in color, and reduced in bulk.

Chocolate Vinaigrette

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper

  1. In a saucepan on medium-high heat, reduce balsamic vinegar until slightly thick and half its original volume. Stir often to prevent burning.
  2. Turn off heat and whisk in mustard, cocoa powder, salt and pepper until well incorporated.
  3. When completely cool, toss with kale and serve.

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بسملة Sacred Moroccan spice.

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There are few sacred things. Food is one of them.

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Good friends are sacred too. Last night I made dinner with a friend who recently returned from studying in the middle east. He spent most of his time abroad in Morocco and, from the look of his fringed, woven scarf, he’s still there.

I’m glad he came back to North Carolina for a bit and brought ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and saffron with him. I’m also glad he hasn’t rejected alcohol like most of Morocco and took up bartending instead.

Before eating, we blessed the food with بسملة (basmala): “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.” After you try Morocco’s combination of saffron, cumin, and cinnamon, you’ll be saying the same thing too.

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Moroccan Lemon Tagine

Serves 6.

2 medium onions
1 green pepper
2 potatoes
3 roma tomatoes
2 lemons
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pinches salt1 tsp each of ginger, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, red pepper flakes, ground red pepper
cilantro, for garnish

Fish Marinade

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, juiced
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp each of saffron, ginger, turmeric, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon
2 tsp cumin 4 large fish filets (Tilapia or Ling Cod works well)

  1. Combine marinade and spread on fish. Cover and let sit in the fridge for 1 hour.
  2. Slice all vegetables, including lemons 1/2 inch thick. Fill the bottom of a large tagine or cast-iron pot (I used a Le Crueset) with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Mix spices and salt, and dredge potatoes in mix. Layer onions, then peppers, then potatoes, then tomatoes, then lemons, then fish. Spoon remaining marinade over fish and vegetables.
  3. Cover the tagine or pot and let cook on medium-low heat, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Test potatoes; when soft, tagine is done.
  4. Garnish with cilantro and serve warm with salad and plain yogurt.

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Granola, crunchy and crunchier.

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I finally found it. The best granola recipe in the world.

There’s a lot of granola out there. And it’s mostly over-priced, overly-sweet, and overly-processed. Being a college student with a yoga mat, nose ring, and kombucha scoby, I am well acquainted with the art of homemade granola. But before a couple of days ago, I wasn’t able to create a crunchy yet dense wafer of honeyed oat goodness. Before, most granola batches either turned out slightly soggy or almost burnt. Granola needs to stick together. With independent oats, your milk and granola breakfast becomes a soupy mess; granola is a little like people.

The secret to granola “bark” is in the spatula. After you pour coated oats in to a rimmed baking sheet, firmly compress the mixture with the back of your spatula. Don’t stir the granola while it’s baking. Instead, just turn the pan around a couple times while in the oven.

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Despite its association with the crunchy, health-food types, granola really isn’t that healthy; it requires a dessert-worthy amount of fat and sugar. Thus I have two versions for you. One is sticky, coconut-oil rich, and sweet. It’ll taste more like the granola you buy in the store and it’ll also have just as many calories. The good part is it won’t have all the chemicals. The other version has modest amounts of fat and sugar and tastes great. But because there’s not much fat, the oats won’t stick together.

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Spiced Coconut Granola, Two Ways

Makes 6 cups.

Rich, sweet version

(Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated‘s Almond Granola.)

1/3 c maple syrup
1/4 c packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut or vegetable oil
5 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1 tsp spice of choice (ie cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice)
2 cup (10 ounces) raw nuts, chopped coarsely, like almonds, pecans, or walnuts
2 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or other dried fruit, chopped

Or, the low-fat, low-sugar version

1/3 cup maple syrup
4 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup coconut or vegetable oil
5 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1 tsp spice of choice (ie cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice)
2 cup (10 ounces) raw nuts, chopped coarsely, like almonds, pecans, or walnuts
2 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or other dried fruit, chopped

  1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl. Whisk in oil. Fold in oats and nuts until thoroughly coated.
  3. Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into thin, even layer (about 3/8 inch thick). Using stiff metal spatula, compress oat mixture until very compact. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. Stir in dried fruit. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.)

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Christmas ‘shrooms.

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Fog falls on red clay.

It is snowing in Georgia,

silent Christmas day.

Christmas lights

Happy Christmas!

I woke up this morning to the sound of father-Santa wrapping last minute presents. It was early, and still dark outside, but heady scents of hazelnut coffee and Grandma Lorena’s English Muffin bread turned down the sheets and got me out of bed. I gave my dad a kiss on the cheek and went for a run before anyone else was up. It was drizzling and cool. Through lit windows, I noticed people gathering around Christmas trees or plucking presents from garage hiding spots. It was a wonderful experience of the Christmas sentimental-voyeuristic spirit.

going to grandmoher's house

And to think that just a week ago, in the midst of finals, I was debating how long I could re-wear my last clean pair of underwear.

I decided not to grace you with any recipes from that time because, well, it would have looked like this almost-published entry:

Tasks like making dinner have become foreign gobbledygook that my brain (which is currently the consistency of mashed potatoes) has trouble comprehending. As a result, I eat my food raw. I don’t use bowls. Who has time to wash bowls? A couple days ago, I invented the bowl-less salad; or, in laymen’s terms, I ate a whole head of lettuce, turkey leg style.

Because this sounded too much like a weird Renaissance Fair episode of the Twilight Zone, I had pity on myself– I turned in my anthropology thesis, took an exam, and got back home to Georgia.

Oh, to eat food on a plate.

1-DSC_0009whole wheat rosemary flatbread

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Wonderful creations have come from the kitchen since returning home, namely my mom’s mushroom soup. Nothing is more civilized than a creamy, meaty mushroom soup drizzled in black truffle oil, topped with a poached egg, and served with homemade flatbread. This soup is ridiculously flavorful, easy to make (especially with my new Christmas immersion blender(!)), gluten-free, and vegetarian friendly. And it’s light; you won’t feel like you just consumed a quart of cream as you might with a cream-based soup.

Kelly’s ‘Shroom Soup

serves five.

1 lb  mushrooms, roughly chopped
1  onion
2 cloves of garlic
16 oz.  beef or vegetable stock
pinch of anchovy paste
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp  cayenne pepper
1/4 c  cream cheese
1 c  2% or whole milk

In a medium stock pot, sautée mushrooms and onions on medium heat until golden. Add garlic just before caramelization finishes. Add stock, anchovy paste, salt and pepper, and cayenne. Let simmer for 10 minutes.

Continuously stirring, add cream cheese and milk until there are no lumps. Turn to low heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. With a handy dandy immersion blender or food processor, blend soup until mushrooms become subtle bits of flavor. Garnish with truffle oil and serve with poached egg and bread.

Make bread.

While back home in Georgia, I noticed that the cherry trees decided to blossom a couple months early. Time has been folding upon itself of late. I’m under a spell and I think it might be the smell of baking bread.

For break, I journeyed over the Appalachians to Kentucky to visit with my cousin and friends. In Kentucky, the air smells smoky and raw and baking bread seems like the right thing to do. With dinnertime fast approaching, my friend and I tried our luck with quick-rise yeast. We melted butter with milk, added flour and kneaded any frustrations into the counter-top,  and luxuriated in the feeling of dough as soft as a baby’s bottom. In no time (well, about 20 minutes) the loaf had risen double its size. We popped it in the oven and 30 minutes later the lovingly lumpy, bread “baby” was born. The whole process took about 1 hour and 30 minutes, half the time it takes to make bread with standard yeast. Now I know how heaven can rapidly produce the endless loaves of fresh bread that I pray will be there: quick-rise yeast.

Above: admiring my mom’s hand-written recipe book, kneading dough with the dough hook and grinding wheat berries. Below: taking a break for turkey.

Le Pain, Painless

makes 2 loaves or 24 rolls

5-1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour (can also use bread flour; I use freshly ground red wheat for my whole wheat version)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 envelopes Fleischmann’s RapidRise Yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter (coconut oil is great too)

Combine 2 cups flour, sugar, undissolved yeast, and salt in a large mixer bowl.  Heat water, milk, and butter until very warm (120° to 130°F; my grandmother knows if it’s hot enough by putting her pinky finger in the warm liquid and holding for 3 seconds without burning her finger.)
Stir into flour mixture.  Beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally.  Stir in 1 cup flour; beat at high speed for 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.  Stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough.  Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Cover; let rest 10 minutes.
Divide dough in half.  Place in greased 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch loaf pans. If you want rolls, form the dough in to your favorite roll shape and place in a circular pie pan. Cover; let rise in warm, draft free place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Bake at 400°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.  Remove from pans; cool on wire rack. Eat immediately for wonderful melt-your-butter bread.

Peanut satay.

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A couple days ago my mom, Kelly, flew out from Atlanta to hang out with the peacocks and me in Santa Fe. And since she has arrived we haven’t stopped cooking. Let me tell you, this woman is an excellent cook; Michelin would rate Chez Kelly with three stars and then go on to justify the honor with ebullient descriptions like “ingenious!” “unassumingly irresistible” and “a bright take on Thai, French, and Latin flavors!” If the Red Book’s tasters could try this lady’s roast chicken au provençal, they would be eternally enchantées.

Growing up, my mom never used recipes. When I left home for Davidson, I asked for a catalog of her most famous recipes. She spent a year on that thing trying to nail down how much cumin I should add to spice her enchiladas or yogurt to add to her almond-cucumber gazpacho. When I make those recipes with her today, she always ends up re-altering something.

Kelly, the gardener-chef, with her beloved chickens

sharing the famed Lemon Meringue Pie at Harry’s Road House

The most recent result of our culinary collaboration is a simple peanut Thai satay sauce from her recipe book. We didn’t follow the recipe (surprise!) because we had to omit several things she has in her well stocked kitchen that I don’t have here. Yet the result is a sauce that is just as warm, spicy and addictively peanut buttery as I my mom’s satay. We tossed the satay in a chard, ginger and beef stir fry and served it with purple sticky rice and cucumber mint salad. It was so good our usual rapid mother-daughter banter ceased and we ate in amicable silence.

Peanut Satay

serves 4. adapted from the kitchen of Kelly Blount.
3-4 Tbsp peanut butter
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 lime, squeezed
1 clove finely chopped garlic
1-2 tsp red chile flakes
1 Tbsp anchovy paste
cilantro, if desired

Whisk ingredients together until sauce is emulsified. Serve over vegetables/meat or store for up to a week (this sauce definitely gets better with age).

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