coming out for air

One shockingly healthy pandemic habit I have is walking almost weekly in the evenings with a friend from work. She’s recently quit our office (along wth a bunch of other people lolz) but we are continuing the walking tradition.

Because we both get excited about food and talking about recent tasty meals we’ve eaten I often end our walks ravenously hungry.

So what am I supposed to do when I am parked near a delicious taco truck?! I had no choice but to go ham on some Mexican food.

This particular day I picked up meaty tacos, a sope, a pupusa, a chile mango. Supplemented with cabbage.

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Another day I traveled to India via my friend’s UNBELIEVABLE cooking!

I love these friends and their kiddos and had done a few six feet apart outdoor hangs. By this point I was fully vaxxed and CDC guidelines had already been liberalize enough that I could hang with one other household. So I got to HUG EVERYONE and SHARE A MEAL! And their three year old, the extrovert of the family, gave me a detailed tour of every feature of their backyard, even the paving stones πŸ˜‚

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My friend Bethany bemoaned to her sweet supportive husband Dan that she felt that she was not able to use creative outlets she had in the past. He suggested that cooking was a creative endeavor that she enjoyed.

She went to Patel Brothers, the apparently incredible Indian store in Raleigh, and bought the fixins for a FEAST! She cooked all day and I was so lucky to benefit from it!

Amazing rice pilaf with real barberries (wonderfully sweet tart!)

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Plus dahl, curried peas and potatoes, fried cheese with mint chutney, and mushroom curry with coconut milk (<< omg)

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Another adventure… Greek Easter with the fam!

I cannot overstate what a joy it was to spend Greek Easter with my mom and sister, ALL OF US WHOM WERE FULLY VACCINATED YESSSSSS! My youthful looking mom didn’t turn 65 til April so it took what felt like way too long for her to get her shot.

Such a miracle to be together again.

We took advantage of the opportunity to make a feast.

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My mom made these so so so so so good lamb chops from Food and Wine. Recipe was simple yet it was the kind of thing you’d be dazzled by in a restaurant.

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Then we rounded out the meal with farmer’s market asparagus, and a couscous salad I made with grapes, fresh mint, feta, lemon and olive oil. Plus unpictured cookies from the Greek store since none of us felt like baking haha.

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My sister found an old picture of me and my ex boyfriend where I look pretty cute (as one does at 22). She creatively removed the ex.

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Back in NC, I went to Guglhupf for BRUNCH with my coworkers! All of the dietitians, one of whom had worked with us for over six months at one point but we had never met face to face (poor lady did all her onboarding via Zoom), got to see each other! Again, vaccines are MIRACLES! I had this terrific eggplant sandwich. They called it a banh mi and it wasn’t really. But it was a bun with nice crispy strips of fried eggplant and lots of nice spicy sour pickley things.

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Here’s a nice skink.

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Here’s a nice five year old, making sand angels at the beach.

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Here’s a nice al fresco coffee

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Here’s a nice baby! My friend got pregnant at the beginning of things and had sweet Portia below in December. I got to walk six feet apart from Portia when she was a bump in a belly. After many months of her life and some CDC guidelines I got to HOLD her! A freakin miracle. Shaylen made us a yummy cheese plate but let’s be honest we mostly discussed eating the baby.

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cookin

It’s very nice to have a partner to cook for because it causes me to put in a bit more effort:

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Look at that lovely balanced meal! It consists of:

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Nathan makes the most unbelievable homemade Caesar salad. It involves chopped hardboiled egg, homemade croutons which he fries in butter, and the most unbelievable component, the dressing. It’s his brother in law’s secret family recipe and involves garlic, anchovies, raw egg, etc…. SO flavorful and amazing.

So we had that and split a bagel with cream cheese and lox for a terrific lunch.

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Another meal I cooked for him- one tray pasanda from this insane British vegan cookbook my mom got me.

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Such a fun technique! Basically curry made in a sheet pan. First you roast your veggies (not sure I would have thought of cauliflower, carrots, and green beans as a combo but they were great). You do so using a LOT of red pepper flakes! Then you add coconut milk thickened with ground almonds and mixed with lots of ginger and garlic and spices and roast it a bit longer. You finish the dish with yogurt (I confess I didn’t bother getting the coconut based stuff so this was made un-vegan… but you could certainly make it vegan! And it’s also gluten free!)

Another day I was at N’s and neither of us felt like going out so we McGyvered together a sheet pan of nachos from random leftovers.

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When I’m just cooking for me the inspiration is less there. So here we have some work lunches at various levels of depressingness:

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Bread and butter (I think this bread was either homemade or from the farmer’s market), meatless buffalo chicken burger, and wilted spinach salad.

Another day:

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Toasts with cheese and tomato, more wilted spinach salad.

Ugly but good:

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Homemade beer bread toasted and topped with jalapeno goat cheese from the farmer’s market (incredible!) and Smitten Kitchen’s cucumber avocado salad which is no stunner in the looks department on day two but which is so yummy and healthy.

Truly random:

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  • Cheesy toast
  • sugar snap peas
  • hummus
  • farmer’s market strawberries😍
  • leftover cake from my friend’s birthday lol

Possibly even more random:

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  • Meatless chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce leftover from the McDonalds happy meal I ate on the drive down from Virginia lol
  • artichoke! my favorite veg! dipped in mayo
  • english muffin with avocado

On days when I feel allergy-y, I like to have some lower sodium ramen on hand to throw together a quick noodle bowl to clear my sinuses.

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This one contained:

  • egg, poached in the hot broth
  • spinach
  • farmer’s market mushrooms
  • noodles and seasonings below

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Sometimes at dinner I put in a bit more effort, especially if I can batch cook something:

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Brown rice congee from The Kitchn. Topped with green onin, hard boiled egg, Sriracha, and a bit of fish sauce.

Pizza!

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Broccoli pizza from my guru, Smitten Kitchen. I tweaked the recipe to make the full batch of her lazy pizza dough (v delicious) and thus increased the other topping ingredients too, but i didn’t have quite enough broccoli so I did a section of one of the pizzas with spinach instead.

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The lemon zestiness is just really inspired. Highly recommend this recipe.

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Another big batch dish- chili.

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Hilariously, after I made this honey beer bread from Gimme Some Oven, I got a text from my friend the NEXT DAY telling me how good the recipe was and that I had to try it haha. Note I used half whole wheat flour.

Sometimes I use the farmer’s market for inspo:

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Made this roasted radishes and their greens. V tasty. Turned into a complete albeit lazy meal with tofu and boxed mac n cheese haha.

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I keep a bunch of old ends of bread in my freezer and then make a strata/savory bread pudding of sorts.

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This involved roasted tomatoes,onions, greens, cheese, etc with a custard of eggs and milk. There was some leftover brioche which made it quite lovely and rich.

Beans!

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Cooked dried white beans with oregano from my planter, the end of an onion, and a few cloves of garlic.

Quite delicious on greens with olive oil and lemon juice.

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cure for nonsense

The pandemic has continued to be rather trying. Thrilled though I am to be vaccinated I’m still trying to be responsible. All these new guidelines have provided no reassurance whatsoever but have done wonderful things to fuel my anxiety!

Basically, this:

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Honestly, work has been extra trying. The messages I sent my sister and mom after a recent meeting…

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So, a chronicle of what I’ve been trying to do to reduce the crazy:

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One lovely late winter/early spring day I went to the farmer’s market en route to my old neighborhood in Carrboro to take a walk with my former roommate. I figured I’d pick up coffee and a baked good at the market.

What actually happened was that they were out of coffee so I got hot chocolate… then got a chocolate-containing cookie. Yes, I am a dietitian πŸ™‚

Art!

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Did you know one can buy paint by number kits on Etsy? V fun and relaxing. Very different from screen time.

Kitties!

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Above is the feral boy my friend Karen has been feeding. I met her for a walk and he was waiting on her porch.

Then on our walk we saw more cute animals, and a series of cute animal art.

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More friends!

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I met my friend and her lil one and we enjoyed outdoor distanced ice cream cones at Rockwood Dairy Bar, which is LEGIT. One of my flavors was banana pudding and it was embedded with homemade marshmallows oh my.

At Nathan’s:

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Apparently we were on diets in the 1980s on this particular day and had coffee and grapefruit for breakfast. Note that the grapefruit is not sugared (I like sourness) so the reason it looks whitish on top was because it was in the coldest part of the fridge and froze a bit. This meant it was slightly slushy and sherbety and was, in a word, phenomenal.

Outdoor winter dining is made bearable by… heat lamps!

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I think heat lamps are the best thing in the land. If they persist in the post-pandemic world that is A-OK with me. N and I dined al fresco at Al’s Burger Shack with one of these kerosene pals.

Another al fresco dinner (note that this tent was open on all sides- it wasn’t one of those closed in ones that essentially has recreated the indoors, outdoors)

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On this particular adventure at Bull City Burger and Pizzeria Pompieri (which share a patio) we got to people watch and randomly there were a lot of cute young gay men on dates with each other… plus us haha!

I was excited to see they had hot mulled wine on their menu! 😁 But then they were out of it. 😒 But then they had hot apple cider with bourbon! 😁 But then… it was like straight liquor with a tablespoon of cider 😫

Nathan’s:

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He’s a man who shares my values, so he ordered the keto burger (involved fried egg, bacon-onion-jam, cheesy goodness)… and then got it on a bun, thus restoring the carbs.

He also insisted on an order of fried pickles:

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I had only a few bites of them… but he was quite into it. Hey, Groucho.

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I focused on the pizza I ordered which had lovely blistery crust which is Pompieri’s specialty.

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Another day, extraordinary enjoyment:

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The tacos at Bartaco are good and reasonably creative… buttttt the absolute highlight of their menu is the CHURROS! They are absolute perfection- custardy on the inside, crispy on the outside, and the chocolate dipping sauce is so dark and intense and delicious.

Another day, another pizza:

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Sat on the patio at Tomato Jake’s and got a Greek salad and a slice of the Popeye (which was colossal and I only had half of on day one). Let the record state their dill-heavy ranch dressing is extraordinarily good.

Chinese:

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Shanghai Dumpling on Franklin Street has phenomenal dumplings and dim-sum-ish things. I got some for N and me. Note that the broccoli with garlic sauce was the mostly powerfully garlic scented item I have ever experienced… very good that both he and I ate some so our breaths canceled each other out… right?!

Basketball:

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My UNC alumni group sent us celebration kits for the UNC-Duke game and invited us to a Zoom party/happy hour/networking event. I invited N to watch with me and learned that despite us dating more than two years he had no idea that I had attended UNC? Yikes.

He hemmed and hawed about watching with me because apparently, on two previous occasions we had watched UNC-Duke games together, and UNC had lost both times. (He is superstitious about these things).

Anyway, he ended up coming to my house… but then fell asleep! I did my networking thing and then he was still conked out so I read (couldn’t actually watch the game as I don’t actually own a TV and am in no danger of paying for the ESPN app). And ultimately UNC beat Duke (whoop whoop) and I’m not sure how this tracks in our statistics of watching the game together… we were in the same home but neither of us watched the game and one of us was unconscious?

Speaking of UNC, due to us both being vaxxed Colton and I had a nice reunion (outdoor brunch!)

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My tacos involved scrambled eggs, fried avocado (!), pico, and cheese.

Then it was Pi Day so…

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We had key lime pie! And Colton made me drink nasty sweet wine with him which I did not have much of.

Then my car wouldn’t start so I had to get it towed 80 miles 😬 Will not discuss in further detail but it was not my favorite.

My cousin and her hus are fully vaxxed, as am I, and that meant I could safely actually cuddle with her kiddos again!

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There was a period where every time I saw Juliette she was double fisting popsicles. Teething!

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My beautiful goddaughter. So lucky to get to hang out with these sweet small people.

Finally, I’ve been livestreaming my mama’s church services. It’s been nice to have a spiritual practice from the comfort of my living room, one I can participate in whilst wearing a onesie.

And the live chat in my mom’s church’s Youtube channel is THE MOST WHOLESOME CONTENT the Internet has ever seen. I can’t even…

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How are other people keeping sane?

february holidays

I am definitely not someone who cares about the Superbowl but my boyf is. And to clarify, “cares about the Superbowl” means “use the Superbowl as an excuse to prepare enough food for several armies.”

Like, to be clear, the astronomical quantity of food you are about to witness was only for two people. This was no clandestine superspreader pandemic event. This was for him and me.

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I really couldn’t capture all the individual components that N threw together. There were mini sausages with onions and grape jelly and ketchup and I don’t know what else which he, wistful eyed, said “grandma used to make”

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Homemade pizza dough, shaped into a heart, and topped with goat cheese and beets and garlic infused olive oil

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Then arugula and shallots and I don’t even know what else

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Meatballs involving various leftover vegetables, applesauce(?!), seriously who knows. With marinara.

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Just a whole tableful of ridiculousness. Midway through food preparation he ordered wings and a cheesesteak, just to make sure the table was on the verge of collapsing (this was NOT NECESSARY)

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I was a real dietitian and brought veggies and Greek yogurt-based dip πŸ˜‚Β  It seemed necessary to bring some kind of balance.

Another February holiday… our anniversary! Two years! Time flies when you’re having fun! (lol JK one of those years was a pandemic. There has been no time flying and no fun for awhile)

Sweet man bought me flowers.

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They smelled quite intoxicating when the lilies started to bloom (don’t worry, I kept the cat far away from them)

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A mere five days after our anniversary was Valentine’s Day. I knew I wouldn’t see bae (he had his kids) so I was going to just chill and plan for our adventure later in the week.

BUT, I stepped out my front door and what was this exciting box?!

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MINI CUPCAKES?!

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My awesome sister strikes again. This girl!

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So my actual VDay was surprisingly cute.

But then my anniversaValentine’s dinner was a few day’s later with my fella. I decided to cook for him.

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I went to Left Bank Butcher, the local grass fed free range farm to table hippie dippie spot, and said “I need a meat that’s really really easy for people who don’t cook very much.”

They hooked me up with this extremely sexy sirloin. They told me:

  • Rub it with salt and pepper
  • Sear it in a hot pan (I used cast iron) coated with some neutral oil, getting it browned on each side
  • Throw it in a 375 oven and bake it til it’s 127 degrees in the center
  • Let it sit, tented with foil, for 10 minutes
  • Carve into perfect rare goodness

I opted to gild the lily and buy some of their bone marrow butter (!!!) to melt on top. Then N gilded the gilding and bought buttery bread on which to spread the marrow-y butter.

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This dietitian rounded out the meaty buttery meal with roasted asparagus, spinach salad with sweet’n spicy pecans, and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. A pretty killer ValenVersary meal.

Then we coped with our meat sweats by having a dance party which was also great.

The leftovers were also killer, and since I was the chef, N insisted I get them. On round two I threw together my favorite wilted spinach salad (whisk together a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce and mustard in a hot pan and wilt spinach into it) and had that with more steak and potatoes.

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family sweetness

I was blessed beyond blessed to get my vaccine (or, as I saw on Instagram and can’t get out of my head, Fauci Ouchie) in January.

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A lot of odd things came together to allow it to happen

  • my health care system got the vaccine and started vaccinating everyone on the inpatient side with direct contact with COVID patients
  • except, as often happens, they forgot the dietitians
  • the inpatient dietitians were like “yo, we’re health care workers too”
  • my health care system went “oh sh**”
  • then they overcorrected and maybe thawed too many doses at once and just ended up going ahead and vaccinating all the dietitians”

I felt weird about getting my vaccine earlier than many, but also so so grateful. I figured I wasn’t at the upper echelons of health care and had no power over these decisions. So I shouldn’t feel guilty about things over which I have no control! So with the blessing of my manager I decided to go, get the shot, and then get out of the way so the next folks could get it. And keep wearing my mask!!!

So I had a shot. My sis, a front line worker, got her first shot in December and was fully vaccinated as of MLK weekend.

SO, we decided that since Malindi had missed Christmas and wanted to see my mama, and since my sister and I hadn’t seen each other in over a year and I was in a position where I was partially vaccinated and could self-isolate and take a COVID test before I drove up… our little nuclear family gathered for MLK weekend!

It was bliss.

We did an outdoor, masked, distance hang with my aunt ‘n uncle ‘n their foster puppy ❀

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Paisley loves banana bread.

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We enjoyed the culinary treasures of Northern Virginia.

Banh mi with Vietnamese iced coffee and sticky rice desserts wrapped in banana leaves…

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And I made my family a batch of my new favorite easily attainable baked good, Smitten Kitchen’s chocolate swirl buns. Babka in tiny adorable form.

I actually had already made the recipe once, at my place in NC, and had captured photos there. My poorly insulated home was rather chilly at that time for proofing bread dough, so I cleverly placed the bowl containing the dough next to my space heater.

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While up at my mom’s I was able to use a classy rolling pin to roll out the dough, but down at my low-frills home I made do with a wine bottle. Topped the dough with chocolatey goodness.

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Then I rolled it up into a log but was mighty nervous about slicing it.

Whilst making batch one on my own, I reached out to my family, who at the time were still separated from me and only accessible virtually… my mom was snarky but supportive.

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While making batch one I was putting photos and the amusing banter with my mom in Instagram stories. So then of course Colton had to get involved and be ridiculous.

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Anyway after all that my sweet lil chocolate swirl buns ended up so cute!

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And when baked they were OUTRAGEOUS.

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Perfect texture. It was great making them in NC and feeding them to my friends, and extra great making them in VA and feeding them to my family.

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Being home also provided an opportunity to go through the family photo albums, which is always a hoot.

My mom’s great aunt Vina did astrology (!) and periodically would give my mom updates about what the planets had to say about her life, and also did start charts for my sister and I when we were born. It’s a treat finding letters from her, written on a cranky typewriter (!!!)

See below, when I was 3 and my sister was about six months old:

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“Malindi, who my write”— my sister was an English major! And I wholeheartedly agree that she has a lovely disposition. And is sensitive.

Meanwhile, an update that Ileana “will always be interested in nutrition” (!!!!)

Ah, but then, eight months later, a clarification- the details about my sister were right, but she had accidentally gotten my birthday wrong by one day and thus my rising sign and so on were different!

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Thus, an updated account of the stars states…

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  • Interest in medical/nutrition things (check)
  • may not become a doctor (check… ultimately it’s for the best but I rather wish I got paid like one)
  • never be fat (debatable!)
  • intellectual (check)
  • love cats (CHECK CHECK CHECK!)

Anyway, I have been very very privileged to see my family and now that I am living the sweet vaccinated life, I am still following CDC guidelines, and beg that y’all do too!

home for the holidays

It was a weird one, but it was still so so good to be home for Christmas.

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I quarantined my face off prior to coming (causing considerable awkwardness with my boyfriend!) and my mom and I were both comfortable enough to risk spending the holidays together. I feel weird saying that… because I go off on people I see being irresponsible. I watched the new cases go zooming up over all those winter holidays and while I did everything I could to limit my exposure before seeing my mom, there’s nothing that’s zero risk. Anyway, I feel very lucky that neither she nor I sickened as a result of our time together.

My sis, due to the challenges of working face to face with patients as a frontline HERO, las stayed in Louisiana with her hus and the pets. She blessedly got her first vaccine at the end of December but didn’t have enough protection yet to feel safe taking a plan across the country. Blessedly, we did get to see her in January, chronicled shortly, thanks to the MIRACLE of vaccination.

In the meantime we did lots of gabbing virtually. Also, she was kind enough to send us a mini cupcake assortment. I MEAN. The pancake and cookie dough varieties were particularly stunning.

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My first day or two at home I worked remotely, since I can do my virtual job as well in Virginia as I do in NC.

My mom introduced me to the fabulous Greek coffee morning break that she has introduced into her own workday 😍 Delicious rocket fuel.

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And once work was done, as usual, I spent much of my time at home on the couch, with the cat, reading. Are you on Goodreads? I am! Come find me there if you’d like.

Recent favorites (mostly recommendations from and/or loans from mama)

  • Wild Swans- a memoir of three generations of women living in China. Grandma was a concubine, daughter was a communist revolutionary, daughter ended up leaving. All the stuff about the cult of personality around Mao… my God.
  • The Vanishing Half- fiction about mothers and daughters and race and identities. Amazing, character-driven story.
  • The Bluest Eye- so intense you can’t really say you *liked* it. But it, and anything by Toni Morrison, feels like essential reading. She’s an incredible writer and is unnervingly good at transporting you back to your childhood memories. I read it with my book club and as I told them, I felt very lucky to be able to discuss it with a group of people.
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While I lazed about, my mom was busy making roughly 50 pounds of buttery, walnutty, sugar-packed holiday bread.

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We kept driving around delivering it (whilst masked and distanced) to loved ones yet every time I went to the kitchen there seemed to be more of it? As if the loaves were breeding?

They were freaking delicious. My mom found them a bit wonky looking and referred to each loaf as a “nut job”. I found them homemade and exuberant looking. Their deliciousness was in no question whatsoever however.

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Rather than joining a gang of friends at church or going to my mom’s sister, one of which we’d typically do on Christmas Eve, we instead gathered in front of the computer monitor to zoom the Christmas service.

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Sheila helped.

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Christmas day was truly bizarre… most years it involves stockings at home (and/or morning church depending if we went the evening prior), Christmas brunch at my mom’s other sister’s, then dinner with my dad’s family at someone’s home, plus my brother in law’s various family events in recent years.

But this year it was like… here we are. Two people. At home. Going nowhere. Spending the whole day in one place!

“Santa” (I) brought this holiday assortment of tea which I recommend as a SMASHING thing to have around the house when the weather is cold. All kinds of exciting festive flavors.

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We hung out and played Christmas music and did stockings and gifts and I read my new cookbook a lot. Sheila supervised.

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We Facetimed with sis and brother in law and the cats and dog. Sent messages of cheer to others in the family.

And… lounged around and didn’t do much?! SO strange!

Dinner was delicious and festive, though simpler than previous Christmas meals. My mom got pork chops and apples at the farmer’s market and made this gorgeous creation (plus sage from the plant on the deck).

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Rounded out with roasted sweet potatoes, braised red cabbage (my heart!) and sparkling wine.

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I took a quality time off of work for the holidays- a good week and a half- because after a year of taking maybe 2 long weekends? And the endless grind of the pandemic… I was Over It. I was so so ready for time off. Mama took some well-deserved days of leave too.

We played tourists in DC.

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It is exceptionally strange to look at these pictures we took walking around the Mall because a week and a half later shit hit the fan.

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But this was a peaceful day and we were appreciative of all the people walking around wearing masks and being responsible human beings. Made the events of January 6th seem even more jarring.

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This lady was at the sculpture garden, quite close to the Capitol. Her face is an appropriate response to what she would witness.

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We also got to go up and see my aunt in Annapolis (masked, distanced). En route I made my mom listen to my newest podcast obsession, You’re Wrong About. We listened to deep dives on the DARE program, alpha males, and crack babies.

When we arrived to Annapolis had an unseasonably warm day and a lovely neighborhood in which to walk.

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Plus a porch to hang out on safely, with a space heater to keep us warm!

We had tea in these super good looking mugs…

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And this lentil soup, which is a recipe that comes from my great aunt and which I’ve tried to make at home but have never made as well as my aunt does.

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Another day we went to Great Falls.

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The nature was great. The crowds were a bit overwhelming. I was an introvert before the pandemic, and while I definitely miss people… the few times I’ve been in crowds I’ve kind of felt ill. I hope I won’t have pandemic-induced agoraphobia in the future.

I got to say hi to my mom’s wonderful, sweet, cat-loving neighbor. She ended up bringing over gifts for both mom’s cat and mine. Her caption on the gift for Sheila cracked me up.

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We did some home cookin… my mom made WONDERFUL homemade chicken broth and turned it into soup that involved both pasta AND potatoes because her values about carbs are right where they should be.

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And we also got some of the fun ethnic cuisines of Northern Virginia.

Soon dubu jiggae (spicy tofu stew) from Lighthouse Tofu, accompanied by rice and pickled veg. Plus dumplings.

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I got the mushroom stew. It’s hot and silky and comforting and delicious.

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And Korean pickled veg are snappy and hot and oh so refreshing.

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Another day I got us an assortment of treasures at the pupusa place. This involved pupusas (with hot sauce and pickley cabbage slaw on the right), a chicken sope, and a tamale

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My plate, 1/2 a sope, 1/2 a bean pupusa, half a cheese and loroco pupusa, half a tamale, with exuberant quantities of hot sauce and slaw

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And for dessert, yucca donuts with sugarcane syrup (!!!) Hold me.

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For our New Year’s meal, I decided to cook up something fancy shmancy! Cauliflower steaks from Ottolenghi. Glamorous and tasty and incidentally almost absurdly healthy and high fiber.

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I was sad to say goodbye to my mother but by that time we were already dreaming up a January get together…

christmas cheer

My computer was being a bit exhausting and I couldn’t get into WordPress. That’s an excuse (though my laziness has also contributed) for this hilariously out of date content.

In the park near me, a family likes to decorate their tree and gnome for major holidays. Christmas was very festive.

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I guiltily don’t remember who gave me these festive kitties with bows and Christmas fruitcake but I love them and they livened up my living room.

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As per usual I did Christmas cookie baking.

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I confess that decorating Christmas cookies while gabbing with your friends, who decorate the majority of the cookies= fun and easy. Decorating Christmas cookies on one’s own= surprisingly time consuming. Though playing Christmas music helps.

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I made (on two separate weekends so the pics don’t all match):

  • Chocolate crinkles (don’t remember the recipe but honestly all the ones online seem to be pretty much the same)
  • Chocolate chip meringues (see above. I prefer a recipe that leaves them soft rather than crunchy in the middle. Note that I used Trader Joe’s 85% dark chocolate to make these. People lost their MINDS! Also gluten free which is handy)
  • Easy and delicious sugar cookie recipe, same as last year
  • Smitten Kitchen’s peanut butter cookies (gluten free)

Then, in the course of my deliveries, some people also made cookies for ME! Lucky me!

My friends and their kiddos made a few batches including these adorable Grinch cookies (which I did not know were a thing!)

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And my coworker Chelsea made incredibly impressive gingerbread decorated with perfect royal icing

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I also made a delivery to my cousin and the kiddos and got to enjoy the nutso Christmas decor in their suburban community. Nothing celebrates the birth of Jesus like Baby Yoda.

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I popped into my favorite coffee shop and they had a giving tree! I picked this lady.

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I picked up a gift card to a wonderful local Italian restaurant (felt great supporting them too!) Look at this awesome organization. They sent me a thank you note and a Christmas ornament πŸ™‚

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Also note that the coffee shop, Joe Van Gogh, gave me an adorably decorated cup. What gorgeous and festive handwriting!

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Another highlight of Christmas in North Carolina was celebrating virtually with my bestie in Chicago. I sent a package to her, her husband, and their son (my godson!) and we had a delightful little Facetime date. I sent him a (non-Covid!) mask so he could match his doggie brother and he looked so freakin’ adorable.

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three cooks

Cook 1: Me! I’ve had varying degrees of cooking inspo throughout 2020, but I’ve had some successes I can share.

Cook 2: My boyfriend! He experiments in the kitchen in that wacky boy way so I have some fun stuff of his to share.

Cook 3: Deb Perelman, aka Smitten Kitchen, whose recipes appear over and over in my kitchen. She is the frrreakinnn best. I consider myself fairly cult-proof because I’m constitutionally suspicious of self-improvement, but if Deb started a cult I’d totally join.

Here is my reaction to her recipe for cauliflower tacos. Thanks so much to my guy for capturing this beautiful photo of me hahahahahahaha.

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Note that the taco recipe is quite malleable. I didn’t have black beans, so I used refried (the salsa ones from Trader Joe’s). I didn’t have the cheese she specified, so I used goat cheese. I would say the most spectacular component, the one you couldn’t have these without, is the pickled onions. Just divine!

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Also in the Mexican fusion recipe spirit was this un-be-liev-able pizza N made. He’s been making awesome homemade pizza dough for quite awhile now and basically never repeats the same topping twice. But I’m hoping he’ll make an exception for this refried black beans egg, cheese, tomatoes, basil (?!) green onion creation. With chips and salsa atop just to gild the lily.

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Another meal we collaborated. I had roasted a chicken and potatoes trying to use up some of my scads of oregano before my plant froze. I brought that and N had bought artichokes, my faaavorite vegetable, just for me, plus he fried up some summer squash which was also great.

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Another time I had more chicken leftovers with some nice spicy zippy farmer’s market greens with a quick vinaigrette. Fancy lil french bistro lunch!

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As the weather grew colder and we entered soup season, I threw together a carrot soup that I ate for a few days. And I started buying the BEST pizza they make at Weaver St Market: a thick, foccacia like crust with some whole wheat in it, topped with a medley of cheese and spinach and artichokes, and (key) accompanied with this zingy herby salsa verde to drizzle atop. SO GOOD.

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When the weather was warmer I’d taken some yummy farmer’s market bell peppers and filled them with:

  • Trader joe’s soy chorizo
  • rice
  • cauliflower rice
  • feta
  • sauteed onions I think?
  • I don’t really know what else
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I forget about stuffed peppers- they are such nice comfort food that are also vegetable-rich!

N has been doing this fun project that has benefited me ENORMOUSLY called Let’s Try A Bunch of Ways of Making Eggplant Parm.

Yes please. He’s done fried vs baked eggplant slices, breaded vs unbreaded, including noodles in the layers, all kinds of wacky seasonings on the eggplant… I am benefiting thoroughly from the experiment.

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Having extra piecrust around at Thanksgiving fortunately reminded me how great quiche is! The perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner! This had spinach and goat cheese and probably some sauteed onions too.

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Another UH-MAZING Smitten Kitchen creation- Broccoli Roast. Make this and I swear to you, you will always be excited to eat your vegetables. The spice rub and the olive oil crisped broccoli… just unreal! I used two whole heads of broccoli and the entire spice rub in one batch. I will make this again for SURE.

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The broccoli made a lovely well rounded meal with:

  • Veggie sausage
  • Leftover Thanksgiving roasted sweet potatoes
  • Leftover Thanksgiving cranberry sauce
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A nice winter salad for when citrus is in season:

  • Arugula (or whatever greens you like)
  • Shrimp
  • Avocado
  • grapefruit
  • Your vinaigrette of choice
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Neither my boyfriend nor I cooked this meal but we very much enjoyed eating it. Dumplings (the shrimp, egg and chive are the BEST!) and veggie noodles from Sister Liu’s.

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Finally, in the all too rare category of Vegan Winter Comfort Food, I submit this Madhur Jaffrey recipe:

  • 1/2 to 1 head cabbage
  • Neutral oil
  • Shiitakes, fresh or dried and reconstituted in warm water (I used a package of the fresh guys)
  • tofu, crumbled
  • a couple teaspoons mirin (Japanese rice wine)
  • a couple teaspoons soy sauce
  • salt to taste (you’ll need a decent amount because once you start cutting up a cabbage you realize the astonishing quantity of vegetable goodness it contains).

Thinly slice the cabbage and mushrooms. In your BIGGEST and deepest skillet (I used my 12 inch one and my 1/2 a large farmer’s market cabbage was still overflowing at the beginning), sautee the cabbage in oil til it wilts. Depending on how much cabbage you use this can take a few minutes or quite a bit more time. Add the mushrooms and sautee a bit more. Add the tofu. Add the mirin and soy sauce and salt. Toss together a few more minutes

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Eat while wearing cozy socks. Nice with rice.










change of scenery

After my birthday I’ve gotten to have a couple outdoor hangs with my best gal pals. My friend Emily gave me this delightful thing for my birthday πŸ˜‚

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I’ve continued to really enjoy visiting my cousin Sophia, her hus Mike, and their delightful kids.

They went all out with both Halloween and election-themed decor (and the Washington Nationals flag which is a permanent fixture)

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As Mike said, we are all that skeleton.

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The kids decorated this pumpkin and I love it so much. Chase the four year old fairly faithfully followed the template to make a sheep. Juliette the one and a half year old splashed on day-glo paint haha.

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And one day Chase decided the most fun activity imaginable was washing my car…?! He spent most of his time on that window for some reason. It was pretty dang cute.

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I’ve visited Shaylen and Kyle in Raleigh. They are due with their first baby on Christmas Day (!!!) We’ve been taking nice walks in beautiful Dorothea Dix park.

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Sometimes their delightful dog Bu joins us.

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One day we didn’t want the outdoor hang to end so we got takeout from Raleigh Raw (I got a poke bowl, obviously the prego lady got something different!) and ate on their porch. Mm.

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Another day I headed down to the Raleigh/Cary area to take a long meandering walk with my friend Whit.

Our ultimate destination was La Farm Bakery, which produced this unreal S’more creation:

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They have a really nice outdoor seating area with heat lamps and we were super comfortable. Woodrow the dog had a great time. Here he is going “A s’more! I love s’mores! Thanks so much for offering to share with me!”

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Also on our walk we saw this on point yard decor hahahaha.

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Well, enough people did indeed say nope (though not in my state, unfortunately), so we had a DONALD TRUMP DEFEAT to celebrate!

We went and hung out in this new area of Durham that I can vouch is adjacent to a VERY transitional neighborhood where I visit my patients… but has this corner by Highwire Brewery which is super hardcore gentrified 😬 It’s great because they have a really large outdoor area shared by all the businesses in the vicinity and it’s easy to physically distance from others while simultaneously getting to people watch. I missed people watching!

I got a mimosa because it was a champagne occasion.

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N got us treats from the food truck… chicharonnes for him and tater tots (!!!) for both of us.

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Then I got cinnamon donut ice cream (!!!) from Two Roosters, which is on the same campus. QUITE an indulgent day.

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Then we meandered around downtown Durham for a bit, where people were going NUTS. Video I took is here. Kinda reminded me of Harry Potter Book 1 where the wizarding world is going nuts because they think You Know Who has been defeated. There was an area downtown where there was literally a DJ spinning the Cha Cha Slide and people dancing like they were at a wedding reception.

We stayed on the outskirts of the crowd, since though mask use was pretty good, it’s still, uh, a pandemic. At a certain point I got SUPER overstimulated since I hadn’t been in a large crowd of people since March (!)

So I was happy in the following days to return to more peaceful pursuits.

Strolls in Merritt’s pasture.

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Jaunts in the woods in Carrboro

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And then for something COMPLETELY different… N and I were chatting one Friday night about what to do for the weekend and he said, “What if we go to the beach tomorrow?”

Of course pandemic logistics went zooming through my head but also a feeling of I HAVEN’T SEEN THE OCEAN ALL YEAR.

And N was an absolute champ and did alllll the driving and let me sleep in the car (which I actually miraculously did a tiny bit) which means we left at about 5:30/6 and were pulling in to Wrightsville Beach at 8 am!

We were originally going to go to a bagel place but then we went by this restaurant and saw a line of people waiting outside including a squad of cops and then an entire fire truck pulled up (!!!) and we knew the food was legit.

Super cute place, I’d be here all the time if I lived in the area.

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We grabbed takeout and enjoyed our coffee on the BEEEEEEEAAAAAACCCCCHHHHH.

Ahhh.

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So many highlights:

  • A cat! Named Tito! I was strolling along the dunes and I saw this little black and white creature and it didn’t make any sense but yep a cat! On the beach! I peeked at his collar and saw that the address was like “Seashore Lane” or something so I figured out he was a local. And then a lady walking by was like “Oh yeah that’s Tito, he lives around the corner. Usually he doesn’t come this far!” but there he was just hanging out in the sunshine and asking for pats! Which I happily gave him.
  • So many jellyfish! Pretty much the only folks in the water were surfers in wetsuits. When the waves crested you could see pinkish orange blobs suspended in them that were all jellyfish, and there were tons of them washed up on the beach! So spooky

I didn’t take that many pictures because I was trying to soak up the sights and sounds and smells. It was perfect.

Then around lunchtime I wanted to teach N about Indochine, one of the local favorites my coworkers taught me about when I was interning in Wilmington.

Their dreamy courtyard was already perfectly equipped for the pandemic. We sat by the koi pond!

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Our meal was freaking gorgeous.

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We split the dumpling sampler (!)

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And then while N dominated the chicken wings, I went nuts on what was definitely the best part of the meal, this salad:

Goi Ngo Sen (GOY-NEW-SHEN)- Shrimp mixed with daikon radish, carrots, cucumbers and scallions topped with out traditional Vietnamese dressing, caramelized shallots, peanut and cilantro.

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OMG.

We spent a little of the afternoon walking around downtown Wilmington but it was too crowded and there were not enough folks wearing masks 😫

So we went back to the beach, soaked up a little more sun and surf (I got sunburned in late November which yes is bad but also what a novelty) and then headed home.

birthdays

On October 7th, I turned 32. The same age my mother was when she had me. Was this alarming? Yes, yes it was. Though there is some relief to 2020 being a total cluster because instead of too much “What am I doing with my life? Am I grown up yet?” thinking, there is just “Am I doing what I can not to make this pandemic worse?” thinking keeping us busy. Heh.

My sister was totally ridiculous in the best way on my birthday. When I messaged the family group text that I was bummed to remember I shared a birthday with Vladimir Putin, she came through with some HAUNTING photoshops.

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She also continued a super fun tradition of gifting one another gifts for our pets. Lola ADORES her new donut shaped bed.

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As for me, I spoiled myself a bit (see spontaneous cupcake purchase below- the boyf and I enjoyed pumpkin spice and snickerdoodle flavors)…

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But REALLY got spoiled by N! Rather than wake me up early (he makes lots of jokes about how much I *love* sleeping but really I think he’s just jealous because he gets so little) he instead dropped off some treasures on my porch on my birthday before work.

Roses…

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… pumpkin cold brew and a cinnamon roll πŸ™‚

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On my lunch break on my birthday I got my FIRST HAIRCUT IN PROBABLY A YEAR!

A clever salon near me was doing outdoor haircuts, and it was a glorious day.

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She said she needed to take off three inches to get rid of my janky split ends. Honestly I suspect it was more like 6. This was SUCH A PLEASURE!

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Then my birthday eve N and I went to the newly revamped outdoor dining area at Acme! It was DELIGHTFUL!

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Being in public without a mask on (only as we ate; we wore masks when we were up and about and I tried to wear mine every time our server came close to us) felt a lot like being naked in public?! But I was so glad to have a relatively safe, well-ventilated space. Such a thrill!

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They had a state fair theme going (the NC State Fair didn’t happen as usual, obviously) so we got a complimentary starter of kettle corn, cocoa puffs, and M and Ms.

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I had a cocktail involving rosemary and gin and honestly don’t remember what else. I’m a lightweight already and since my intake has gone even further down in coronatimes to… once per month, maybe?… this got me giggly very fast.

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We got a half dozen oysters which felt SO festive!

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And some luscious and large deviled eggs

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And we opted to split two entrees which were both INCREDIBLE (and more meaty than is usual for me since I found out shortly before this that I was anemic!)

  • Pecan-crusted fried chicken (! so moist and incredible!) with butter beans and mashed potatoes with tomato gravy
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  • Short ribs with some kind of kidney bean corn tomato stew underneath… super smoky and great.
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And my spontaneous man also ordered a second round of oysters which came with the entrees hah!

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I was too stuffed to even think about dessert… but I didn’t even need to because N had picked up cake at Nantucket, the restaurant that provides cake slices that are legit about 6 by 8 inches?! Just ridiculous! This involved chunks of ganache and cookie dough. Woah.

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And then, as if we hadn’t had enough fun, two weeks later was N’s birthday!

We have been doing this super adorable thing where we work from home together once a week or so. So, I brought him breakfast at his place.

We both had coffees and then I picked up rather different his and hers breakfasts…

His: country fried steak (!) and eggs on a biscuit

Hers: avocado toast lololol

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He had fun with his kiddos his birthday eve, but I took him for dinner the following week.

We sat on the lovely patio at Guglhupf (which for some reason I forgot to photograph) and again split two entrees (plus, not pictured, raided the amazing German bakery for pretzels and desserts):

  • Doner kabob with a side of spaetzle
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  • Reuben with a side of potato salad
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Proving that we are always learning new things about the people we love, N demonstrated for the first time that he is wholly obsessed with high quality mustard and got like three separate large servings throughout the course of our meal, one of which is pictured above πŸ˜‚