christmas vacay

A girl in her onesie, a cat in his sweater.

Christmas with family, what could be better?!

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My sister’s cat has developed allergies and created a bald spot obsessively scratching his back. Thus, the sweater. Also, let me assure you, that is one of THREE onesies owned by my sister.

So it’s February, which means it’s as good a time as ever to reminisce over the holidays. (Work just completely brutalized me last week so it’s nice to look back at happier, easier times!)

I’ve continued a tradition of wrapping some of my Christmas presents in old ads from Vogue.

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I truthfully took hardly any pictures when I was home. I was too busy having fun and being happy and reading Harry Potter in the bathtub at my mom’s house (yessss).

My baths were greatly improved by the sassy gift given to me by my cousin Stephen:

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I tried to keep up my physique over vacay, once getting my mom to do a modified Body Pump class in the basement, me using five lb dumbbells, her using soup cans 😀 It’s silly AND YET, as I constantly tell my patients, you really can exercise anywhere and don’t need fancy equipment. Also I created a custom playlist for us that featured I’m So Excited by the Pointer Sisters and (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing. So really you should be jealous.

I even dragged myself to the gym once or twice, mainly so I could pick up Sweetgreen on the way home (I miss that place!)

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I took a trip up to Annapolis to see my aunt Jeanie and uncle Tim’s gorgey new house and we sat around and spent a *lot* of time discussing Cooks Illustrated recipes and also a *lot* of time (as usual) digging deep into the (extensive) psychological issues of our relatives.

I got my Korean fix (which is essentially impossible in Chapel Hill, alas, but which is everywhere you turn in my mom’s town in the DC ‘burbs). My mom and I hit up Lighthouse Tofu for potstickers and pickles and stew and barley tea and all the goodness.

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An of course, my aunt Kathy and uncle Tom threw their annual Christmas morning feast. There was laughter, nostalgia, gag gifts, a lovely warm fireplace. My sister and Eric brought their dog, Billie Jean, who was everyone’s favorite. At one point I ran out to the car and came in and literally everyone in the kitchen/dining area was just standing in a circle admiring the Bean. She LOVED IT.

More cute animal snuggles continued with Bodie Dog and Jasmine Cat later in the day with my dad’s side of the family. Bean did not attend that, as Bodie tries to get a bit… amorous with her heh. Of note is that my aunt made REALLY great scalloped potatoes from the Foster’s Market cookbook.

Then it was time for our annual post-Christmas, pre-New Years open house. It was also my sister’s boyf Eric’s birthday.

IT WAS ALSO, UNBEKNOWNST TO MALINDI, THE DAY SHE GOT ENGAGED. YEP! YEP! THAT HAPPENED!

It began with Malindi making this (#@)#%&@#% incredible) birthday cake for Eric. If you love pumpkin spice and cream cheese frosting (and YOU HAD BETTER), then do yourself a solid and make this cake.

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There’s the finished product on the right (the icing was a wonderful collaboration between my mom and sister), and on the left is my mom’s homemade baklava (amazing as ever).

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Malindi also made mint brownies, and I made these gluten free peanut butter cookies from Smitten Kitchen (which were so yummy!).

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This year was the year I made peace with the fact that I really don’t have to make ten thousand kinds of cookies. Mom and Malindi bake stuff. People bring stuff (including my aunt Nan, who somehow mystically condensed what tasted like the flavor of a pound of chocolate into each single, incredible cookie that she brought).

Also, there was an extensive savory department!

Lotsa dips, including muhammarra and artichoke cheddar dip (made by me), labneh and taramosalata (lovingly bought at the store), and baked brie topped with fig jam and wrapped in puff pastry (made by my aunt Kathy, and SO AMAZING as always!)

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Also literal pounds of cheese, various pickled things, some kind of crescent roll concoction dreamed up by Malindi, and deviled eggs made by me peeking out of the corner there.

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Birds eye view! With the turkey and ham and rolls and even more yummy things on the table.

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So I was more than happy to collapse in my jammy pants at the end of that rowdy day…

… but that was not the case for Malindi and Eric, who drove to Baltimore, had a fancy dinner, walked by the water in frigid temperatures, AND GOT THEMSELVES ENGAGED. Some of us knew it was coming… but Malindi did not, which was the goal 🙂 They seem real happy and cute and I’m sure there will be a wedding update on here before you know it.

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cookin

Recent(ish) meals.

Further evidence that I am in a life-long love affair with carbs.

Weekend breakfast: Trader Joe’s pumpkin pancakes/ avocado omelet

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Dinner for a couple nights: Trader Joe’s frozen gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce (didn’t care for it, likely won’t buy again) bulked up with cherry tomatoes and asparagus

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Homemade chili: three kinds of beans (pinto, black, kidney), can of rotel, chipotle chili powder, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, etc. Honestly, I made this as an excuse to pile cheese and sour cream on top of it (additional batches also involved avocado and hot sauce).

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Green bean casserole: made a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Just cause. Made the lazy way (Trader Joe’s condensed mushroom soup, sauteed mushrooms, frozen green beans, Trader Joe’s crispy onions, a bit of parmesan). With a chicken sausage for protein.

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Ribollita: I made super unsuccessful homemade bread (measuring the ingredients for bread with measuring cups is a crapshoot- this is why I’m stoked to’ve received a digital scale for Christmas). I reappropriated the bread into homemade soup, roughly following this New York Times recipe, but instead of putting crostini on top, I cut the bread into crouton shapes, tossed it with olive oil and toasted it, then tossed it into the soup.

Also shared this soup with my friends who had the new bebe in November.

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Pizza: I still had another batch of unsuccessful bread dough to which I added a lottt of water (i.e. probably too much but oh well) and revamped into pizza dough. I topped it with some weird hippie-ish toppings (homemade barbecue sauce, roasted broccoli, chopped up baked tofu, random cheddar cheese I had lying around) and baked it as hot as my oven would go (slightly burning the bottom in the process but I didn’t totally mind that honestly).

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Pot pie: After Thanksgiving, I had a spare frozen pie crust, so I tried to fashion a sort of lentil-root vegetable pot pie. The filling was a bit dry and one note (I used celery root, parsnip, carrots, I think sweet potato too?) but I mean it still had pie crust on it. I ate it happily, particularly with some cheese melted on top.

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Broccoli pasta: after Thanksgiving, I also had some heavy cream in my fridge (rough life, I know). I also had some broccoli. This led me to this Smitten Kitchen recipe for spaghetti with broccoli cream pesto which was BOSS.

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Pretty standard: one could hardly call this cooking but my default meal these days is avocado toast+ some kind of protein+ more vegetables if I’m being good.

Thus, below, baked tofu, avocado toast, and Trader Joe’s premade salad kit (this had dried cranberries n apricots and cheese and a champagne vinaigrette).

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Another leftovers triumph: On New Year’s Day, I pulled the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving out of my freezer and made homemade stock. Then I thawed some turkey meat and some cooked rice from my freezer and put that in the stock. Then I whipped up some eggs with lemon juice, tempered them with hot broth, and threw them in too.

Thus, avgolemono soup. So great. You have to put lots n lots of black pepper on top.

Here, simply served with salad.

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Finally, the most exciting thing I have cooked in awhile: SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE! (Plus massaged kale salad with lots of lemon for a brightness and bitterness and acidity foil to all the richness)

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For Christmas, my auntie Jeanie gave me the compilation of all of Cook’s Illustrated recipes for 2017. I LOVE reading Cooks Illustrated articles the same way I love reading short stories. They are the OGs of nerdy food science and I always learn things.

The compilation included their “weeknight bolognese” (<< so called because it was “quicker” and “easier” than traditional recipes). I’m dubious on the weeknight bit (it took an hour and a half, required a trip to Whole Foods for pancetta and Italian-style egg noodles, and trashed my entire kitchen).

That being said, IT WAS EXTRAORDINARY. And since you basically have to make a ridiculous amount of it (you use the pasta’s starch to thicken the sauce so you can’t make the whole batch of sauce and freeze part of it, which would honestly be my preference, but oh well) it’s a good thing that it was great. I ate it for like five happy days and shared it with some of my favorite people 😀

holiday amalgamation

A bunch of only vaguely related fun things I did around the holidays. Hint: mostly fun things= tasty eating.

A brunch. Sam, the most extroverted and accomplished woman I think realistically in the world, was down visiting from DC and had a mini grad school reunion. We went to Venable and I had the reliably wonderful herb-roasted eggs, subbing avocado for bacon on the side. Dreamy.

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Weaver Street Market had a mini Thanksgiving showing off all of their holiday offerings (yes, this was a few weeks prior to Thanksgiving, yes, as usual the things I blog about are hilariously out of date)

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I MEAN. Imagine a world where one could just drop $$$ for all local organic free range dreamy goodness cooked for you by someone else for Thanksgiving. Eh, maybe I would miss cooking though.

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The smoked salmon/cucumber/goat cheese/caper toasties were one of my favorite things.

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Then I did some baking of my own!

For some reason the whipper attachments to my hand mixer have disappeared (thus making it useless) so I used this fun whisk to hand whisk rawther a lot of egg whites.

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Look how beautifully I separated out the yolks! I thought they looked so artistic!

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The end product was tres leches cake for Kyle’s 30th birthday party! We did Asian-style karaoke in a private room. It was real silly.

The cake can be found here, at Smitten Kitchen, who gives me such reliably great dessert recipes. This was less tooth-breakingly sweet than some tres leches recipes and just… so so so good. Moist and rich and dreamy. I wish I had real vanilla bean but c’est la vie.

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A reminder that I am 97 years old, so every weekend I go to my favorite coffee shop for coffee and a crossword. In this case, also a cheddar-herb scone. Simple pleasures, friends.

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GAH lookit how bit my cousin’s baby is?! He’s round about 15 months in this picture but essentially believes he is an adult who needs to get into All The Things. Fearless, this one. Parenting him seems… lively.

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Went to The Bazaar to do some holiday shopping. Me and my lady frenz split three flavors of these donuts SWOON SWOON SWOON. All the donuts are sweet potato based and there are a variety of toppings/glazes- we did cinnamon sugar, cider glaze, and lemon glaze. They taste like heaven.

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Another day I was tired of my own thoughts so I went to hang out with my friend. This friend makes me (a committed introvert) seem like the life of the party- 90% of the time, he’s hanging out in his living room, with his cat, watching either The First 48 or the NFL.

I brought football snax. I zoned out. It was real nice.

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OMG THIS HOLIDAY PARTY.

So I work at a clinic one day a week and my organization’s medical director, who’s an attending physician at the clinic, was nice enough to invite me to their holiday party at his GOOOOOOOOORGEOUS historical Durham house. I MEAN:

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This clinic goes ALL OUT for their holiday celebration. One attending (pictured below at leftat left) can play pretty much anything on guitar. One doctor (Dr. Low Carb, I call him- he’s a big of a obesity medicine celebrity, and is pictured below at right) can play literally anything on piano.

So we had the most lovely, rowdy, singalong. I managed to dredge up the harmonies I learned for various Christmas carols in middle school. One cute family- mom, dad, and teenaged children (! They didn’t even mind hanging out with their parents on a Friday night! They were so cute!) did super sweet performances. There were toy instruments for banging and clanging and jangling in the background.

It was just a DELIGHT.

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Another day, another Christmas market. This one in Saxapahaw. The Haw River Ballroom looked like the inside of a snow globe and I loved it!

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Another day, another Smitten Kitchen cake! My friend Myra is currently preggers and could not enjoy a birthday cocktail… so I made her a hazelnut brown butter cake!

More egg white whippage plus butter browning (THAT SMELL!) and grinding hazelnuts with flour and so on.

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Batter:

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Cake!

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One of many reasons I love Smitten Kitchen so much is because when I make her recipes they actually look as beautiful as when she makes them!

Another day another sugar rush… I went to a friends’ Christmas open house and melted down some Swiss chocolate to make these:

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Dreamy!

And finally a few things in the savory treats department:

After I delivered Myra her birthday cake, she and her hus Alex and I went for dinner at Radius in Hillsborough. I got their gnocchi with sweet potatoes and kale and pesto cream topped with salmon. This was RICCCCCH so it easily became two meals.

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And I did a movie night with the First Wives Club and we as usual went way overboard on the snax… I LOVE IT. I was sort of a good dietitian and brought carrots and hummus and some broccoli pasta (I’ll blog about that in a bit) and then there were additional nibbles and cheese and so on.

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And of course there was an epic dessert selection, pictured below. My contribution is in the upper left hand corner. I made lemon curd with the egg yolks leftover from making the hazelnut cake. And sandwiched the lemon curd with perfect tiny sugar cookies. SO nice! Oh God also the lower right corner was my responsibility… apple slices with cookie butter. Oh dear.

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So as we’ve already shared in this post my cousin’s baby is cute but also HE SHARES! Sweet little angel.

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Thanksgiving etc.

The week of Thanksgiving got off to a VERRRRRRRY promising and delicious start for me!

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My mom is the best. Mind you, she was coming for Thanksgiving. This wasn’t a “sorry I won’t see you for the holiday” package. It was I guess a “Thanks for hosting” package!

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Yes, that’s right! I hosted for the first time! We ended up with 11 people (?!?!?!?! Not the original head count, FOR SURE).

People brought a lot, I made a lot:

Shaved brussels sprouts salad with apples and walnuts. A nice refreshing counterpoint to the richer food. And vegan! Though there weren’t any vegans present hahaha. Note that I subbed peanuts for the walnuts (guest had an allergy) and I only used 1/2 a red onion (which is… uh… MORE than enough I would venture for any but the most passionate onion lover). Also subbed a honeycrisp apple because I couldn’t buy individual Granny Smiths for some reason?!

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Spicy squash salad with lentils and goat cheese. Reliably great, and one of those perfect dishes you can make ahead and serve at room temperature. Also, when I got bored with the leftovers, I roasted them and then it was like a new, equally great dish!

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Green bean casserole (made mostly following the directions on the Trader Joe’s condensed mushroom soup box, hahaha), artichoke parmesan sourdough stuffing (should’ve used a bigger pan, was mushy, alas), and gravy (improvised from drippings, broth, flour, and butter).

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Turkey, plus another shot of the green bean casserole.

I overcooked the turkey and it was entirely my, and not the recipe’s, fault. I don’t want to talk about it. Moving on.

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One of Malindi’s pals brought this adorable butternut bleu cheese crostini!

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My plate! Also included mashed potatoes (which I threw together and kept warm in my slow cooker), my friend’s unrealllll pasta salad (it involves goat cheese and broccoli and sweet potato and craisins and those ingredients don’t seem to add up but OH they do), and Colton’s BOMB roasted garlic quiche (that dark brown chestnut-y looking thing on the lower left-center is a clove of garlic that’s been mystified in all kinds of magical ways). Oh and there’s cranberry fig compote somehow buried in there that my mom made that was also REAL good.

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Malindi and her crew (two classmates plus a roommate- my mom really raised her kids to take in people who don’t have anywhere to go for holidays and I like to think we’ve done her proud!)

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Me and my crew (Colton is getting weirder as each day passes so his latest thing is posing with his hand on the bellies of his female friends. No, I am not with child. No, Colton is not, dear God, my baby daddy).

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Lest we forget, the all-important wine and dessert table:

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I got cranberry champagne (!) at Trader Joe’s that was yummy and there were also various red and white wines. Someone brought beer too I think? For desserts, I made a nice lemony yogurt cake and this UH-MAZING chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Going to go ahead and put bourbon in everything now, just to be safe. Plus my sister made UH-MAZING pumpkin squares with a gingerbread-y crust about which she’s been irritatingly coy when I ask her any questions about the recipe. I assume she put crack in it and that’s why it’s so good.

So once the holiday was done we entered the all important leftovers phase.

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I spent a lot of fun times with my mom (who stayed with me Thursday and Friday nights and then switched back to a hotel when my rooommate returned to town). Mind you, she was sick, as was my sister’s boyf Eric, as I grew to be (thanks a lot, Mom!) so the pace was rather slow.

We geeked out at the planetarium where I used to work, and hung at my favorite coffee shop, and played with the cat, and did other low key chilling.

One day mom, Malindi, Eric and I met up at Monuts. I got their reliably excellent avocado toast and scrambled eggs.

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And then as a table we split various amazing desserts, most notably this DELICIOUS pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. Sigh.

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Final leftovers: a pot of turkey tortilla soup. Sauteed some onion in olive oil, then added a can of rotel, then immersion blended that with lots of cumin. Then added broth and turkey. That was pretty much it I think?

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As usual, tortilla soup was 75% about the toppings.

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It was a lovely holiday. I don’t know if I have any particularly profound lessons I learned about hosting Thanksgiving, but I 100% know that I could not have done it alone. Let people bring food! Call your mother freaking out and asking her to bring two card tables and three tablecloths and as many folding chairs as she can fit in the hatchback!

cookin, plus an actual recipe!

I think sometimes my blog can turn into an insufferable little account of “OMG GUYZ LOOK HOW MUCH FUN I HAD THIS WEEKEND!” and it’s really better when I blog about food and cooking and inspiration and so on. One to be less insufferable (would that be called “sufferable”?) and one to serve as a record of yummy things I’ve cooked so I’ll remember to cook them again!

Mind you, this is stuff I was cooking weeks to months ago… so it is not the most seasonally applicable for now. But take heart! A recipe awaits you at the end that will be in season for several months now.

Sausage and potatoes. A classic. Also sauteeing sausage with peppers and onions is just a good idea.

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I can eat a meal like this a couple times in a row.

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Ugh, Trader Joe’s had this for an infuriatingly short window but let the record state- TRADER JOE’S JICAMA AND MANGO SLAW IS SO GOOD! I can’t wait for it to come into season again next year! The shredded jicama and mango are boss and then there’s a spicy vinaigrette and drool drool drool!

I had it with black beans, seasoned (my friend taught me this- she has reflux and is limited in seasonings she can use but this is delicious!) with oregano, cumin and olive oil.

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This was meant to be a cheesy creamy lovely use-up-the-last-of-the-summer-tomatoes gratin but it was just okay. The basil in there was yummy though. It was just kind of… gloppy. I love the cookbook How To Cook Everything Vegetarian but sometimes when it has one master recipe (“How to make gratin”) and then there’s a list of a gazillion kinds of that recipe (“Kale gratin, potato gratin, eggplant gratin” etc. etc.) some of the items further on the list maybe have not been tested as scrupulously. This was just real… wet.

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The award for most random assortment of leftovers goes to…

Smoked deli turkey, pumpkin pancakes, leftover greens and yellow split peas, and leftover eggplant salad.

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How to make delicious eggplants: cut a slit in them and throw them in the oven as hot as you can make it (or even better, on the grill) and just let them soft and silky and falling apart. This particular time I seasoned them with hot peppers, sesame oil, green onion, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. But they’re good Mediterranean style too with lemon and olive oil.

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Since I often just don’t feel like eating salad, particularly BORING salads like the ones I make, I often avail myself of salad kits which are a bit of a ripoff but still more cost effective than going out to eat.

Trader Joe’s makes a Southwest-y one with tortilla strips and pepitas and cheese and a spicy avocado vinaigrette that is pretty darn tasty.

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Looking to liven up spaghetti squash? Do a variation on a taco bowl! Spaghetti squash seasoned with cumin and oil on the bottom, then topped with sauteed tempeh (or anything else, obvi- ground beef or turkey or whatever) seasoned with all your favorite taco seasonings (I used chipotle chili powder and cumin and garlic powder if I recall correctly) then topped with favorite taco toppings like cheese n green onion n sauteed peppers n onions. Also put some plain greek yogurt on the side. I think I made a batch with avocado too, which was obviously excellent.

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Ugh, how adorable are these cranberry beans from the farmers market?!

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They lost their pretty pattern when they were cooked up but they were SO GOOD.

OH. MY. GOD.

I think fresh beans (and peas, too) are among my favorite things in this world. I boiled them just til they were tender in salted water, then tossed them with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and sage. This mega bowl lasted me about two meals… one dinner, and one breakfast the next day cause I couldn’t wait.

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I had leftover beer from my birthday party and I don’t like it… but I use it to make beer bread!

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Sometimes I get a hankering for sesame noodles. These were just okay… I should’ve asked my mom to share her recipe (an old Moosewood one) cause it’s really good.

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And now, speaking of good recipes, behold! Butternut miso soup.

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Back in the day, I used a recipe from recipezaar (which I think is now recipes.com?) but over the years I’ve simplified it based on what I have on hand.
The most important elements of this soup are orange squash, apple, and miso. If you include them, it’s basically guaranteed to be good.

Miso Butternut Apple Soup
1 large butternut squash
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 medium sweet onion (or regular), chopped
1 large apple, chopped
3 cloves garlic
(this would be a good place to add fresh ginger but I didn’t have any, so I added a little ground ginger at the end)
maybe 4 cups vegetable broth?
maybe 1 1/2 cups milk?
2 or 3 tablespoons miso
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop the squash. Toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast in a 375 degree oven until golden and cooked through.

When the squash is nearly done, in more olive oil, sautee the onion, apple, ginger (if using) and garlic until the onion is translucent.

Then add the squash and vegetable broth to the pot and cook for ten minutes or so, to let the flavors meld. Then add the milk and miso and use an immersion blender to blend (or let it cool a bit and puree it in batches in a regular blender). Season to taste with salt and pepper (and ground ginger, if you have some of that).

 

October

The week leading up to my birthday, I was sick and gross. My way of trying to deal with that was having a lot of green smoothies.

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Then the night before my birthday I realized that I was going to continue to be sick on my birthday and wasn’t going to do any cooking (Trader Joe’s frozen snacks saved the day at my party). So I got myself some tasty vittles from the taco truck. A pupusa, a sope, and a horchata. Delish! The cat was interested too 😀

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Random pics from the following days…

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Hazelnut biscotti and cafe au lait at Johnnys, reliably great…

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Avocado toast and eggs with sprouts at Fosters… just okay. Fosters is famous and I will not judge them by that meal. I should’ve gotten something more classic my first time there (I had an awkward time gap between clients at work and just grabbed lunch near me).

Also with an awkward-length break, I went to Parker and Otis. I got myself a fairly normal sandwich but I drooled over the beauty and descriptions of these Halloween-themed chocolates.

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The sky looked pretty in the gym parking lot one day. I took a pic.

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I had a scary movie night with some girlfriends.

We had yummy pizza (and I was a total dietitian and brought a side salad)

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Another night my friend had a campfire hangout at her place. We were celebrating her excellent and much-loved backyard before she moved (I have so many homeowner friends now! Crazy!)

For that get together, I threw together birthday party leftovers to make this trifle-ish dessert. Layers of crumbled Halloween Joe-Joes, chocolate pudding made with leftover milk from White Russians, and whipped cream. Tasty!

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The campfire was dreamy but most of the people there knew each other from running together. They all do marathons and stuff. I have nothing to relate to them with hahaha.

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So I focused on warming my footsies. My lazy, lazy footsies.

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My sweet friend Lesli had her annual pumpkin carving party.

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Boo the Halloween cat supervised everybody.

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My pumpkin had naturally spooky eyes so I designed a face around that. I was going for a cat but it got a little rodent-y, IMO.

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I had it on my front stoop for a whopping two days before the freaking deer knocked it down and ate a chunk out of its face. Oh well.

SPOOOOOKY OOOOOOOH!

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John and Emily and their pumpkins.

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Lesli and her witch making brew and Garrett and his alien

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Alex and Sam and their potion!

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Snacks were REAL good at the pumpkin carving party. Apple cider sangria…

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… Chili and cornbread muffins…

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SO GOOD pasta salad- Lesli later brought it to Thanskgiving

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Now please enjoy this amusingly Halloween-decorated lawn I stumbled upon in Carrboro.

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A little more Halloween goodness:

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I threw together an EXTREMELY low-effort, last-minute Halloween ensemble to go to a Halloween party over the weekend at the Michael Myers house- basically, a random dude has built an exact replica of the house from Halloween in the middle of North Carolina. And, understandably, hosts a big Halloween bash there every year that involves house tours, beaming horror movies onto a projector (we enjoyed the truly terrible My Bloody Valentine), dressing up, etc.

Here’s a closeup of my makeup, which was fun to do. Props to my sister for the black lip gloss.

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On Halloween itself I visited one of my new favorite places- Brewery Bhavana. It is a brewery, dim sum restaurant (!), book store, and flower shop (!!!)

It wears quite a few hats. I can attest that it EXCELS at the dim sum so even if the other ventures were not successful I’d be happy indeed.

Behold, one of the best things I have ever tasted:

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Scallion pancakes with bone marrow and oxtail jam. Swoon. I am not that into meat, but yknow, I was there with a boy, and then I tasted this and it made me want to cry it was so good.

We also had (unpictured) crab dumplings, a turnip cake…

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And lil moon cakes filled with something barbecuey as I recall.

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Plus unpictured cocktails 😀 The last day of October was also the yummiest day!

life lately

The beginning of this post is word heavy. The end of this post is both word and picture heavy. Prepare yourself!

Thing #1: I have become addicted to Body Pump.

Cons: I sound like a tool saying that.

Pros: everything else. Guys, it’s been so good for me. For your bones, for your metabolism, for everything- especially if you are a woman, you really ought to be psyching yourself into strength training. Body Pump (a class taught at many many gyms all over the country, if you’re not familiar with it- a full body strength training circuit with low weights but lots of reps, set to music, led by an enthusiastic instructor who gives you tips on proper form) makes it bearable for me.

I cannot handle: wandering uncertainly through a weight room, speculating which machines might be appropriate for strengthening which muscles, totally inventing how many reps at what weight, listening to gross grunting coming from sweaty and stinky men around me.

I can handle: someone telling me when to go up on my weights and when to go down, proper form, doing countdowns of how many reps I have left, whie Uptown Funk is playing.

I’ve been doing it about once a week for about four months and I’m really happy with the results- subtle toning in my arms, shoulders, and abs; and my legs, which were already fairly muscular, are really impressive now. And wowza do I have junk in the trunk. My booty is high and tight and I’m into it!

Thing #2: I have grown very fond of the My Favorite Murder podcast

Cons: It’s messing with my capacity to trust humanity

Pros: It is THE BEST commute entertainment

So if you’re in the know you probably know true crime is having A Moment right now. I have an aunt who’s a producer for Investigation Discovery and she says like their entiiiiire audience is women. And weirdly, their viewership spikes at like 2-3 am. Apparently the modern American working woman is waking up in the middle of the night and going, “You know what will help me relax? Watching a TV show about murder”

When I started my job, I had just gotten a new car and had a free three-month trial of satellite radio, which is really pretty much as great as everyone says it was- more variety (though they still play a lot of songs too often for my taste) and NO COMMERCIALS! After that I attempted to go back to listening to regular radio and it was just terrible. (Also, for obvious reasons, listening to the news on NPR makes me want to kill myself. I’m really proud if I make it through about 30 seconds of news and then they start the word “Presi-” and I get a hand spasm and have to change the station real quick)

However, I spend a really unreasonable amount of time in my car for work, driving around doing home visits with my clients. I was going to go insane without something to entertain me. So, I was on the hunt for a podcast to listen to on my way to work/ on my way around town for home visits. I was reading the always excellent submissions to Jezebel’s true scary stories contest and noticed a lot of people speaking positively about My Favorite Murder. And so I gave it a listen and thus an obsession was born!

It’s a show about true crimes (specifically, murders; with the occasional near-misses/terrifying but ultimately empowering tales of survival to keep morale up). And it’s hosted by two very funny comedians. If it sounds like something you’d like, you probably would. If it sounds like something you’d hate, you probably would. Go with your gut on that one.

The show is also a treasure trove of recommendations for various true crime books and TV shows. That’s how I’ve gotten into Mindhunter on Netflix (pretty good- the best part is the actor who plays Ed Kemper, the coed killer, who’s freaking incredible), the book Devil in the White City, the book Lost Girls (which I’m reading now).

Thing #3: I started doing the online dating thing this year. As you will guess, this will be the lengthiest part of this post, heh. I joined in late June and have finally reached a place where I can put my thoughts together.

Pros: If you’re a 20something (ugh, barely guys, I turn 30 on my next birthday and may have to evaluate them) and are looking to meet somebody, I think Bumble is the way to go.

I went on OKCupid for like ten minutes a year or two ago and did not like the experience. You can put in all your stuff about age ranges you want, your interests, etc. and you still get messages from 60 year old (!) ex cons (!!) who thank God live 100 miles away. No thanks.

In Bumble, you may only converse with folks in whom you have expressed interest (via swiping right) and who have expressed interest in you. I like both aspects of that- I also really hate rejection and it seems less painful if you know someone has found you at least vaguely appealing before you message them. Because that’s Bumble’s real claim to fame- it’s the feminist dating app! The woman must make the first move to message the bloke you meet! (Note: I don’t know how this works for the same-sex folks)

Bumble also limits how long your profile is- you don’t do some lengthy personality analysis. I kind of like that too- one must choose one’s words wisely and decide what’s important to emphasize. And still an amazing number of dudes don’t say a single word in their profile- no thanks bro!- so they’re easy to screen out hahaha. I think having a wee profile is helpful, but honestly the conversation you have and then, hopefully sooner rather than later, the in-person chemistry and good vibes and so on are just so much more important.

Cons: Online dating doesn’t solve anything in particular. Dating is still often maddening!

You cook a delicious meal for someone (homemade brinner: eggs benedict with homemade hollandaise with lovely wild salmon instead of Canadian bacon pus lovely farmers market tomatoes; and homemade hash browns on the side):

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Then they cook a delicious meal for you (homemade egg rolls and sesame noodles):

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And then not at all after that they disappear for three weeks and you have one last, unsatisfying, conversation over pizza before they ghost you for good.

Admittedly the pizza was great. Glad to finally try Pompieri Pizza. My lil piza had mushrooms and enough garlic to slay a vampire:

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They give you scissors to cut your pizza, fun!

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His was a white pizza with incredible goat cheese that was real real good drizzled in spicy oil.

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Cons: A con of online dating is a con of all dating/life…

I sort of wish that there was some magical light that went on when you are the happiest you will ever be with someone else so you know that this is it, that you’d better soak it up, because things will just go downhill after this. In most dudes I’ve hung out with, I can point to that moment in retrospect, but I find myself wishing I knew it at the time.

But let’s say that light did exist. If you knew it at the time, would it suck all the joy out of that moment? Let’s be real, hope and possibility and excitement at the beginning of a maybe-relationship is a great feeling. Maybe this dude will really get you! Maybe he has no flaws!

Or, if that light went on, would it send you on a feverish quest to beat fate, and obsessively act to bring back the fun/joy/excitement you once felt with and for a person? Or is that what you do anyway when a relationship is going downhill?

This is Deep Thoughts With Ileana, heh.

Anyway.

So yeah things tanked with that dude, which is maybe okay. He was 6’3″, frighteningly attractive, and made me go all stupid and jumbly-worded. He also was a bit wounded and hung up on his ex and that is catnip for my codependent tendencies, which is no good.

Pros: You get to meet people’s cute pets!

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The dude mentioned previously had an adorable boxer dog with a really great overbite.

This other dude, A, who I’ve mentioned a couple of times and have spent quite a few months with, but with whom things now seem to be tanking, has the sweet little kitty pictured above. Her name rhymes with my cat’s name, too- fun lil coincidence, no?!

Pros: Trying new things on dates can be fun.

A and I went to Crossties Barbecue, a place I’ve been meaning to try. And when you get two meals you can share the more horrifically unhealthy menu options, like deep fried deviled eggs:

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A is very into music, and is actually cool about knowing bands and things, so I got to hit up some shows with him. I went to Red Hat Amphitheater with him, which is smack dab in the middle of downtown Raleigh and is REALLY cool and pretty.

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Especially lovely at sunset! We saw Gov’t Mule. The band was good but I had to wash my hair when I got home cause it reeked of all the pot smoke in the air lololol.

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Another show:

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The lawn of the NC Museum of Art is a super cool setting. And I liked both Waxahatchee and Superchunk a LOT.

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Another date. Bull City Ciderworks has all right cider:

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But honestly the best part of it is that people bring their pets there- I met this precious angel Baxter-

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and that they have games there- I am the queen of Bananagrams.

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There was a little early-in-a-relationship drama in there.

But then it got better and then it got really very good indeed. A went on a business trip to Switzerland and brought me this RIDICULOUSLY AMAZING box of chocolates:

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And we had what was maybe that “This is the happiest you’ll be together light” moment: a perfect Saturday that involved wandering the Carrboro farmer’s market and then eating some of the yumminess from there…

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Followed by an unpictured hike with some of my friends and some of their cute dogs…

And then delicious food at the Wooden Nickel! He wanted wings, which I never think to get. But man these were solid:

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And then we got glorious burgers! Him with garlic fries, me with tater tots. Omnomnomnomnom.

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It seems like the later end of this list seems like all pros of online dating and like ooh girl soulmate territory!

Except here’s the thing.

Con: DATING IN 2017 IS RUBBISH. Maybe dating has always been rubbish- I can only speak from my own experience. Until 2017 I met the (few) people I dated in organic circumstances, mostly at work actually. 2017 is the year I embarked on seeking out strangers with whom to make a connection.

2017 dating, especially when one opens oneself up to the Internet, offers abundance. There are lots of people. Some of them are even attractive. One can include the word “feminism” in one’s online dating profile and still get interested dudes.

However, one can still find oneself seeing someone for months at a time and not yet have anything resembling exclusivity. There’s no preexisting foundation of friendship, there are not necessarily any overlapping people in your life, you may have no common interests whatsoever and it becomes really apparent that the only thing that brought you together is the mutual desire to have someone to date, which as it turns out may not be enough.

One can find oneself saying, “I think one of my needs in a relationship is that the other person actually cares about me.” This is the kind of curve we’re grading on, man!

So we will see. This was a mind dump of a post and will not end with any particularly impressive conclusions. But I’m curious to hear (is this thing on? Anyone reading?) if anyone else has thoughts to share.