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A Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan

January 5th, 2015 · Salads

A Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan

For the past several years I’ve done a Whole30 at the beginning of the new year, using the momentum of everyone else’s New Year’s enthusiasm to carry me through a month of unprocessed foods and smart eating habits. It’s really much easier to be virtuous when you don’t have the added stress of having to explain yourself to others when you are abstaining from office snacks and extra meals on the town. And in January, everyone is being virtuous. The Whole30 isn’t a crash diet – I personally don’t do it to lose weight, but rather to re-calibrate – reminding myself how much I love home cooking, adding a substantial amount of vegetables to my diet, eating mindfully, and to curb my snack habit. It’s a lot easier for me to make smart choices when the decision has already been made to abstain from the bad ones, and each time that I’ve taken on a Whole30, I’ve finished with new habits that I’ve carried through the year with me. This January, I’m not starting with a Whole30 – truthfully, because I didn’t plan – but I’ve committed myself to eating wholesome, home cooked food, bringing my lunches to work every day, and generally eating to support my health and wellness.

Fennel salad was one of the first recipes that I posted on this blog, and I’ve made it dozens of times in the years since. The base salad is one I go back to again and again when I’m feeling the need to be virtuous (or not so virtuous – this particular one has a healthy dose of cheese), so it’s a perfect dish to herald in the new year on good footing. It’s a versatile side dish to serve with grilled fish or chicken, and it lasts for a few days in the fridge, and in my opinion improves as it sits, so I can pack my lunches with it if I have leftovers.

Fennel Bulbs

This is my usual base recipe – sliced fennel, assorted other crunchy green vegetables, nuts, and cheese, tossed with a lemony vinaigrette, but I rarely make the same version twice.

What else could you do with this salad?

There’s a lot you can play with. Sometimes I’ll substitute pistachios or hazelnuts for the walnuts. You can change up the herbs – parsley, mint or dill are also nice. If you’d like, you can add citrus – orange or grapefruit segments work well. As do sliced grapes. Mixed greens, and avocado make special additions, but if you are making the salad in advance (as you should!), these should be tossed in at the very end, right before serving.

A Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan

Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan 
serves 4 as a side

juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup good olive oil

1/3 cup walnuts, gently toasted, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

1 bulb of fennel, finely sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
3 sticks of celery, thinly chopped

Start by making the dressing: in a small bowl, put the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. If using garlic, put in the lemon juice, and let sit for five minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients so that the garlic will not be too harsh. Add olive oil, and whisk briskly until well mixed. Add the walnuts and the cheese to the dressing, and mix well.

Toss the fennel and celery with the dressing, and taste to see if you need more salt or pepper. You can make serve this salad right away, but it benefits from a few hours in the fridge. To serve, sprinkle with parmesan and the fennel fronds.

A Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan

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This Week, in Books

January 5th, 2015 · Books in 2015

Every year I resolve to take a few minutes after each read to make quick notes about how I felt about the book. More often than not life happens, I forget to do it, and I move onto my next book, and promptly forget half of the things that I’ve read! For 2015, I set a personally challenging goal of 75 books on Goodreads, and I’m hoping that I take a few minutes between each for a breath and to reflect on what I’ve just read. Here’s the first book!

The Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

#1. Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
Paperback, 297 pages
Published in 2009 by Penguin Books
Read the paperback (owned)

I picked up this copy of Bicycle Diaries at Phoenix Books in San Francisco in 2009 – it still has the Phoenix bookmark in it – and I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to read it through! When I started focusing on cycling this year, it seemed like a good a time as any to actually pick it up again. I’ve been slowly working through the book over the past few months, as it’s served as my trusty nightstand book. (I like to read different books at different times of day, and the nightstand books are ones that are easily broken up into 10-15 page sections, such as books with very short chapters, or compilations of essays.)

The book is a compilation of travel essays, following Byrne’s trips with his bicycle around the world, exploring the history, politics, design, and culture of cities across the globe. At times rambling, always insightful, and I found myself particularly interested in Byrne’s thoughts on how city design can shape our culture, habits, and energy. It took quite a while to finish, but I generally enjoyed it.


Two other books of note tonight!

The last book I read in 2014 was Tovar Cerulli’s The Mindful Carnivore (Pegasus, 2012), which I was re-reading for the second time since the book came out three years ago. The book follows Tovar’s experiences as a vegan, to ultimately choosing to pursue hunting as an environmental and ethical path to meat eating. I’m not a vegetarian, but I believe strongly in ethical treatment of animals, a greater awareness of where our food comes from, and respect for the life lost when we eat meat. This year I tried to address the issue in our diet, and joined a meat CSA, which provides the majority of the meat we eat at home – but for years I’ve been thinking about whether or not I should take up hunting as a way to further connect myself to the food we eat. This is definitely not something I’d consider lightly, so I’ve been trying to educate myself further, and I truly value the critical thought on the subject in Tovar’s book.

The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli

And coming out on January 6th, is my internet friend Andie Mitchell’s new memoir It Was Me All Along (Random House, 2015) which I managed to read a few months ago when I got my hands on a review copy, but will be purchasing in an independent bookstore this week to further support the book!

Andie’s brilliant blog, Can You Stay For Dinner, features excellent recipes, gorgeous photography, and candid and deeply personal reflections on her struggles with weight loss, and maintaining. (As an aside, her months long series on helping her mom with weight loss and dieting are also some of the most compassionate and loving posts I’ve read on the topic.) Her book is just as honest, and it was a total pleasure to read. Get a copy!

It was me all along by Andie Mitchell

What are you reading next?

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Nigella’s Scallops with Thai Scented Pea Purée

January 3rd, 2015 · Meal Planning, Seafood

Nigellas Scallops with Thai Scented Pea Puree

Happy weekend! Welcome to another installment of the weekly meal plan! Maybe it’s the new year, but I’m feeling particularly productive in all aspects of my life, and I hope the inspiration lasts for a good long while. There’s a recipe at the bottom of the post for these scallops with Thai scented pea purée, which were a smash hit tonight for dinner.

It’s been a low key weekend so far – we went to see the final Hobbit this afternoon, which was beautiful, but honestly a bit of a let down. I grew up obsessed with Tolkien, and I think I’m still just bitter about the creation of Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel for the movies – a lackluster female character who definitely is not in the book, and devised for romantic tension with an all too good looking Kili. The whole thing irked me. But I was certainly glad to have seen a movie in the theaters – it’s been all too long!

This weekend I’ve also been playing around with a new app that my culinary crush Jamie Oliver is collaborating on. (Other teenagers had their favorite pop stars hanging over their beds, I had a picture of a smarmy Jamie Oliver sitting in a bathtub that I had clipped out of the TV Guide. I was completely devastated when he married Jules, but I digress.) The new app is called the YOU-app, and every day it gives you daily photo prompts to encourage simple micro-actions to make a better life. Yesterday’s action was to address your fridge – empty it, clean up, and take stock. I managed to toss a good number of things that were past their prime. Here’s the slightly more tidy version right now.

A sneak peak into the Second Lunch Refrigerator

The Meal Plan: Week of December 28th

Now that you’ve seen me bare all – it’s not looking as bad as I’d worried it would, here are the things to use up in my kitchen: a little bit of cheese, some potatoes in chicken broth, a little bit of leftover tomato coconut sauce from the Moqueca (perfect for simmering an egg or two), the leftover vegetable tops from my spiralizer, some beets which I plan on pickling, some coconut milk.

Saturday: scallops and thai scented pea puree. The recipe for this one is below! I was originally planning this for last week, but life happened. Served with a Trader Joe’s potato pancakes, and a fried sardine for the cook.

Sunday: grilled chicken and winter fennel salad. I made this salad a month ago for a dinner party, and I’ve been craving it ever since. Recipe to be posted shortly!

Monday: ground beef and tomato-rice soupMy version of a stuffed pepper soup, with a Turkish twist. It’ll likely get a dollop of yogurt on top, and I’ll use up the leftover dill.

Tuesday: chicken sausage and egg shakshuka. These are all leftovers in my fridge that need to be used. I might sprinkle with some of the extra feta that needs using up as well.

Wednesday: black beans and rice. I haven’t been eating too many beans lately, but Samin got me thinking about beans with her push for ‘bean month’ this January. And I still happen to have about a dozen varieties in my house from my Rancho Gordo year of beans subscription.

Thursday: pork chops with brussels spouts. Just something simple to use up some of my CSA pork chops. I’m not sure I’ll have anything interesting to do with them – this pork is so good just on it’s own.

Friday: Out!

Nigellas Scallops with Thai Scented Pea Puree

Scallops with Thai Scented Pea Puree
serves 2

I’ve adapted this recipe from Nigella Lawson’s original one – replacing her creme fraîche with coconut milk, and adding some extra fresh herb (mint) to the peas. Thai basil would also be good here. I use Thai Kitchen Green Thai Curry Paste, which you can find in most supermarkets now. If we’re feeling hungry, or the price of scallops is exorbitantly high, I’ll reduce the number of scallops to two, and serve the meal with some Trader Joe’s frozen potato pancakes. To cook this dish, start by putting out all of your ingredients, because you’ll want to put together this dish quickly, and eat it while hot!

16 ounces frozen peas (I get the 1 lb. petit pois from Trader Joes)
1 to 2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
flaky sea salt

1 pound wild sea scallops, about 3-4 large scallops per person
flaky salt
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lime

Start by prepping your scallops – dry them well, and season with a pinch of flaky salt on both sides. Then, start the mash. In a large bowl in the microwave, heat the peas until hot, stirring every minute or so until warmed through, about three minutes. (You could also do this on the stovetop.) Stir in the green curry paste, coconut milk, and chopped mint leaves, and season with a good pinch of salt, and set aside.

For the scallops, heat the butter and olive oil in a non-stick skillet on medium high heat. When hot, add scallops, making sure not to crowd the pan, and let scallops cook for 3 minutes without touching them. Check to see if they’re golden on the bottom, and if they aren’t let them go another minute. Flip. Cook three minutes on the other side.

While the scallops are finishing their last three minutes, puree the pea mixture with an immersion blender (A regular blender will also work, but will take a little bit more effort – if you use a regular blender, you may want to do this before cooking the scallops.) Taste, and add any extra salt and pepper you’d like. Plate the purée, and take the cooked scallops out of the pan, and nestle them on the purée.

To finish, make a quick pan sauce: squeeze the lime in the hot pan juices, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any golden brown bits that have all the flavor! Stir for about a minute, and you are done. Pour pan sauce over scallops and mash, and eat while hot!

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Lamb Chops with Pesto and Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestrings

January 1st, 2015 · Meat, Photography

Lamb chops and pesto with spiralized sweet potato shoestring fries

Hello, friends! Here’s my first dinner of 2015, and it’s a good one! I made lamb chops with pesto and spiralized sweet potato shoestrings, and there’s a recipe at the bottom of the post. But first I want to talk about a few of my resolutions this year. The two that I’m trying to focus on are: working to improve my photography, and eating more real food, both life pursuits that make me truly happy.

I take thousands of photos, and I cook at home most nights of the week. But every year I like to re-commit to my passions out loud, to help keep me accountable. And by out loud, I mean, on this blog. This year I’m trying to cook more meals at home – particularly using my Walden Meat CSA and as much local produce as I can get my hands on, shoot more photos, and share them on my Instagram feed, blog more about the food we eat at home – that one’s to encourage me to actually eat at home! And learn more about my camera, take more risks with my shots, and keep reading and learning about photography.

Walden Local Meat Lamb Chops

So here’s what I’ve been playing with tonight – let’s chat a bit about this photography work. Some behind the scenes talk? I hope I don’t bore you here. It’s like my very own photo crit. That’s short for critique, and it’s where your peers and professors share feedback in art class. It always terrified me. But one of the best ways to improve your work is to think critically about what worked well, and what didn’t work so well, so here we go!

I’ve been spending a little bit more time on Pinterest lately to help improve my composition. Before I write a post or cook dinner, I like to look at photographs of the same type of food, and analyze the styling. The goal of course, as with most art, is to be inspired by many, directly copy none, and seek to develop your own style and point of view. That’s hard though, isn’t it? I’m not sure that I can pinpoint my P.O.V. – it’s mostly real food, cooked in a real kitchen. I’m still playing with how best to achieve that on a regular basis, and make my work recognizable as my own. I love the play of light and dark. And I’ve been trying to vary my backgrounds – nobody likes hundreds of photos of the same plates on the same white background. Even though I love my Ikea white DOCKSTA table. And I do wish that it was a real Saarinen Tulip table though… alas, I’m currently priced out of my own taste, the perils of majoring in Architecture with significant advanced coursework on the Modernist Home.

This week I took my copy of Helene Dujardin‘s Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling off the shelf, to re-read it now that I’ve improved (and/or taken hundreds of thousands of shots) since purchasing it, and reading it originally in 2011. I thought I could use a fresh perspective. I also purchased a second Lowel Ego lamp, because, although I’d much prefer to be shooting in natural light, I’d have to be eating dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon for that to happen around here.

So let’s get started with this dinner! I started with the lamb rack, which I decided to cut into chops, because they cook quickly. Whole racks look really gorgeous in food photography, but I was being practical here – individual chops take just a few minutes to cook, and you can cook each one to the doneness that you’d like. We’re a family of mixed doneness requirements, so individual chops are the best choice.

I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired with the raw meat, so I shot a few chop shots quickly before finding the one I wanted – and, I managed to screw up the exposure on my camera while I was fiddling. There were several underexposed shots, and a few overexposed shots, but I figured that I’d be able to process one of them in Lightroom to my liking. This is not ideal, as you might notice, the final shot looks a little blue. So I fixed it, and moved on. And then I went onto the pesto. Store bought. I don’t bother with making my own pesto in the middle of the winter – the basil costs too much, we don’t eat a lot of it, and I usually only go home with a half cup from the Whole Foods salad bar, which is fairly affordable. I’ve also really been digging this local vegan pesto from Sauces n’ Love, based in Lynn, Mass. They also make this great scarpetta sauce. So this pesto. I wanted to try working with my black velvet background. Getting some light and dark in play to really make the green pop. But then I thought I should try a few shots on the table top – light on light. I like them both, so I put them together! Here’s the diptych I ended up with.

Basil Pesto

Of course, I want to show you what that lamb really looks like – not the six perfect pieces that I seasoned with Maldon salt and pepper, and artfully arranged in the photo. Nope, real life is rougher. My knives aren’t always as sharp as I’d like them to be. Here, you notice a few hacked pieces. They got the same seasoning, but this is what you’d more typically see in my kitchen. I’ve always really loved countertop shots, but they are definitely more of a challenge, because the lighting on my countertop… sucks.

Lamb chops and pesto

And now let’s move on to part three of this meal: the sweet potato shoestring fries. In my trusty cast iron pan. Oh, the dramatic chiaroscuro! Those perfect spirals! I love it. Next time though, I’ll bake these on my sheet pan. They crisp up a little better. Sometimes I sacrifice for art.

Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestring Fries in the Cast Iron

If you’ve been following my saga for the past few weeks, you already know that I’m obsessed with my new spiralizer. It’s the Paderno 4-blade Spiralizer, which I purchased from Amazon.  I’ve been preaching the gospel of this spiralizer. I’ve been possibly boring the entire internet with all my talk about this spiralizer. Here are my shots – the “here’s the tool, and here’s the vegetable, in a state of undress” shot, and then the “spiralizer in action” shot. Note the lights I have rigged to the bead-board. They were hanging under the cabinet, but they kept on falling off.

Spiralized Sweet Potato with the Paderno SpiralizerSpiralized Sweet Potato

Although I love my Nikon DSLR, I love shooting with my iPhone even more – but this is likely because I get the most practice with it. Your best camera is the one you have with you – and I’ll always snap a quick shot with my phone, even when I’m shooting with the DSLR. I still have a lot of trouble with the manual focus on my camera, and I can always get a slightly crisper shot on the phone.

And I really like using vscocam to edit my pictures – upping the contrast, and boosting the exposure always works gangbusters. And you can fade the photo ever so slightly, to give it a bit of a dreaminess. You do always risk falling into the over-processing trap – I’m still mourning the entire year on my first smartphone (an Android) that I used some terrible app and destroyed all of my photos with the fake polaroid filter. I hope I’m not falling in the same trap, but I really like the photos that I’ve processed recently with VSCO. I wish I could afford their desktop software!

I was having a lot of trouble shooting the sweet potatoes with the DSLR, but I love these shots that I got with my phone:

Sweet Potato Shoestring Fries

I also managed to snap some of the finished dishes on the iPhone, which you see below. I tried the plate out first with my trusty white on marble. And then switched things up with my new darker cutting board, and a napkin – I love the contrast in this one the best.

Lamb chops with pesto and sweet potato shoestrings diptych

And there we are – here’s a final closeup of the dish! Thanks for playing along! Now it’s your turn. You’ve been so quiet: any feedback? 

Lamb Chops Pesto and Sweet Potato

Lamb Chops with Pesto and Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestrings
for 2

A rack of lamb, between 1-1.5 lbs.
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 sweet potato, spiralized or cut into matchsticks
1 teaspoon cumin
salt + pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pesto – good store bought is okay!

First, preheat the oven to 450 F, and prep the sweet potato strings. Peel a sweet potato, and spiralize it, trimming the noodles with scissors so they aren’t too long. You could also cut the sweet potato into matchsticks if you don’t have a spiralizer. In a bowl, toss the sweet potato strings with olive oil, a generous pinch of flaky salt, a few grindings of pepper, and about a teaspoon of cumin. Toss with your hands to coat, and spread the potato out in a large cast iron pan, or a baking sheet, trying to give the potatoes room so that they crisp and don’t steam. Bake for 10-15 minutes, and flip or toss gently. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, watching carefully that they don’t burn, but you want to get them to brown just slightly. To ensure that these are crispy, and not soggy, I like to spread these out to cool on a paper towel after baking to let them crisp up further.

For the lamb – slice the rack into individual chops, and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a cast iron pan to medium-high, add a tablespoon of olive oil to coat, and sear the chops, about two minutes on each side. A minute more if you’d like a more medium chop. Take chops out of the pan, and let rest for 5 minutes on a plate before serving. Serve with a generous dollop of pesto on each chop, or with a little side of pesto to dip in.

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2015 Road Races

December 30th, 2014 · Running

Sam Tackeff Half Marathon

I’m not sure how the year is over already, but I officially signed up for my first race of the new year – the Needham New Year’s Day 5k! Signing up for a race always provides me with happy brain chemicals, and it makes me want to sign up for more races – so I thought I’d go ahead and organize my 2015 race schedule. (Also inspired by Dani at Weight Off My Shoulders, who managed to run 52 races in 2014 – which required some serious organization. I’ll be lucky if I can manage to get in a race every month this year.)

[The races I’m already registered for are bolded.]

January 1 – Needham New Year’s Day 5k – 11:00 a.m.

February 22 – Hyannis Half Marathon – 10:00 a.m.

March 15 – Craicfest – 9:30 a.m.

April 18 – B.A.A. 5k – (not registered yet)

May 24 – Boston’s Run To Remember Half – 7:00 a.m.

June 7 – Freedom Run – 9:30 a.m.

July TBA – Iron Girl Webster (not registered yet)

August 9 – Sharon Triathlon (registration opens January 30)

September 13 – Title9 Tri (not registered yet)

September 19-19 – Reach the Beach NH Relay (not registered yet)

October 4 – Oktoberfest – 9:30 a.m.

October 10 – Tufts 10k (not registered yet)

December 13 – Yulefest – 9:30 a.m.

Rock n’ Roll Races: This year I’m a 2015 Rock n’ Roll Blog Ambassador! I have three races to sign up for with my sponsored Tourpass, and I’m busy trying to plan which ones to run. They haven’t announced the dates for all races yet, but I’m considering tentatively either DC (March 14), Chicago (July 18-19), Brooklyn (TBA October), Denver (Oct 18), or Philadelphia.

Other Race Series I’m Interested In: the B.A.A. Distance Medley , the Newton Fattman Race Series. I’ve run all of the races in these series (except for the B.A.A. 5k) in years past and loved them, and am looking forward to running a few of them again. These series are heavily discounted if you sign up for the package, so depending on dates (and making the sign ups, I’m considering both of these again.) I’ve also run a few of the Seacoast Road Race Series, and I’d like to do a few of those this year too!

A note on Triathlon – unlike road racing, with Triathlon you have to actually sign up in advance. Way in advance. I already missed out on two of the races I was interested in racing this year because I missed the registration sell out! (Patriot Half and Cohasset Tri) Next year I’ll have my trigger finger ready! (Okay, so it’s not just triathlon – I also missed registration for the Wallis Sands Half Marathon for my birthday week, alas.)

Other races on my radar: 

The Eastern States 20 Miler (March 29)
Cox Providence (May 3rd) 
TARC (trail running!) race series

Other awesome races that I’m not running this year but hope to run next year: Vermont City Marathon (May 24th) and the Smuttynose RockFest Half Marathon

And other race distances: after my first marathon this fall, I’m convinced that I might be up for longer distances. Might there be a 50k in my future this season? We’ll see where my legs take me.

A final note: of course life happens – I’m sure there will be a race or two I’ll have to miss for some family and friend events, and who knows how my body will hold up. (Crossing my fingers for another strong season injury free!) I’ve been super lucky (possibly because I’m a turtle runner) and have avoided most injury. Most of the time I run races feeling like this:

Sam Tackeff Half Marathon

Happy racing! Will you be racing this year? Want to join me?

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