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Books, Lately

July 1st, 2015 · Books, Books in 2015

It’s a wet travel day on my way to Texas, and while I’ve finally arrived in the Lone Star State, unfortunately, I’ve arrived in the wrong city, and we’re currently sitting outside the gate waiting for a new pilot to get us from Austin to Houston. I spent a good long while chuckling as the gate manager has been ever so politely dealing with my fellow passengers, but there are oh so many times you can listen to someone say “I’m sorry ma’am, I really can’t control the weather,” and then continue to get berated by a irate traveler without starting to feel a little crazy yourself. So I thought this would be a good time to talk to you about some of the great books I’ve been reading lately!

Rain in Boston on Jet Blue

At the end of the month I finished an early galley copy of Jess Fechtor’s Stir,  and last night I had the pleasure of attending her spectacular author event at the Harvard Bookstore.

I’ve been reading her blog Sweet Amandine for nearly as long as I’ve been writing at The Second Lunch. We started writing the same month in 2009, albeit for very different reasons. I was feeling very lonely in my new city, San Francisco, and she was finding something to do after a devastating brain aneurism left her very, very sick. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time that I started reading her blog, and it wouldn’t be until much later that she started sharing more with the world. (Incidentally, I started reading her new blog in 2009 because she was writing about food from Boston, and I missed New England. It’s been delightful seeing this book come into fruition!)

Jess Fechtor Stir the Book

Her book, which I worked through in one whirlwind sitting (I didn’t get up for five hours) is spectacular. Beautifully written, will make you cry, AND there are recipes! Go read it!

I’d also like to say that as a book lover, the amount of people who came to this event gave me ALL of the warm and fuzzies. But duly deserved, because Jess is just as lovely in real life as she is on the Internet.

West Coast friends! She’ll be speaking at Omnivore Books on July 16th! Go! 

Jess Fechtor Stir at Harvard Bookstore

In Fiction, I just recently finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, another book that I’d held off on for absolutely no reason other than I thought that the popular obsession couldn’t possibly be warranted. I was wrong. It’s a great book!

A few other titles on my bookshelf include Americanah, and Jonathan Galassi’s Muse.

And of course by the end of this travel debacle, I’ll likely have finished the ENTIRE 530 pages of All The Light We Cannot See. I’m on page 363, and I started this morning after take off, after picking it up on a whim for David Leite’s new book club. I had absolutely no idea what the book was about before starting, and it hooked me from the first 10 pages.

What are you reading?

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What’s in my farm share: June in New England

June 29th, 2015 · Farm, Farmers Market, Gardening

Stearns Farm CSA Fruit and Veg on Table

This summer I’ll be heading west to the farm every other week as part of a CSA (community supported agriculture) program at Stearns Farm, in Framingham, MA. Unlike the CSA boxes that end up on your doorstep, Stearns is a bit more hands on, and requires both regular work hours, and picking a good portion of your produce each pickup. It’s a way for me to avoid the supermarkets, eat in season, and (selfishly) farm without the larger commitment.

:: Storing and prep ::

On CSA pickup day I try to clean my fridge and re-organize in advance so I’ll have space for my produce when I return.

When heading to the farm, I bring large cooler bags, and a few assorted sizes of Ziplocks. I also bring a pair of scissors to cut herbs and certain vegetal leaves. I bring a sharpie to label my produce with a name and date picked.

If produce can stay on the counters in a shady part of my kitchen, I’ll leave them out. If I have no space, I’ll freeze leafy vegetables like spinach and chard to put in smoothies.

Stearns Farm CSA June Haul

So, what’s on the table?

:: June 19th produce at Stearns Farm CSA ::

To pick: 1 quart snow peas, 1 quart snap peas, 10 stalks of swiss chard, 2 quarts of strawberries, and glean spinach which was going to seed. Herbs: sage, marjoram, garlic chives, and mint.

Pre-picked: 1 lb. zucchini, a large head of escarole (or a kohlrabi), a huge bok choy, mustard greens, scallions, and three heads of lettuce.

:: Quick Meal Possibilities ::

When dealing with my CSA vegetables, I like to have an arsenal of easy no-recipe meal ideas that use a lot of vegetables. Many of my go to meals are here. I also make a lot of stir fries, serve quick cooked vegetables with ground meat, mix vegetables with eggs, eat large salads, and break out my spiralizer to make vegetable noodles.

My cookbook collection certainly helps with ideas – I have a good selection of vegetable based cookbooks which are organized by vegetable type. I also make good use of my Eat Your Books subscription.

My Walden Meat share (pictured below) also helps me plan – I try to defrost a few meats in the fridge every week, and then build meals based on what I’ve pulled out to cook.

Walden Meat Share June Haul

Just a few of my meals this week – not all of these are exclusively with farm produce, but I prioritize what needs to be eaten quickly (lettuces), as well as any existing leftovers in the fridge.

  • fresh herb and scallion frittata
  • single serving strawberry crumbles
  • salad with Turkish köfte, peppers and avocado
  • peanut soba noodles with scallions, snap peas, and chicken
  • salad with snap peas and cabbage, and cumin spiced chopped beef
  • potato and cauliflower jalfrezi with hard boiled eggs
  • chicken tikka masala with garlic sautéed spinach
  • goulash with ground beef, red lentils, tomato, and cauliflower
  • farm lettuce salad with fennel, pepper, roasted broccoli, vadouvan sausage

I’ll try to drop in notes over the course of the season so you can see what I’ll be doing with my produce. In the meantime, I’ve been sharing most of my meals here on Instagram lately. Take a look!

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A few good cookbooks

May 18th, 2015 · Books

Steeped Cookbook by Annelies Zijderveld

Hello! We are in full springtime mode here in New England. Things are starting to feel right again. I’ve been walking everywhere as much as possible, riding around the city with Hubway (Boston’s bike share program), wandering, and exploring. My weekends have been consumed mostly with cooking, reading books, and triathlon training, which is pretty much exactly how I want a weekend to be spent.

This week, instead of dreary lunch hours, I ate out with co-workers – a lobster roll eaten on the greenway! – grabbed a green juice with lemon at The Juicery, went for several brisk walks, listened to podcasts, met a friend for a Pimento cheese at the Clover truck, and picked up a new library book (Amarcord, by Marcella Hazan). It just feels so good to be able to be outside and doing things again.

Now, cookbooks. Where shall we start? First, I must mention that I won a contest that has left me rich in tea, teapots, and olive oil, rice, and generally speaking a number of California goodies. After pre-ordering my friend Annelies’ new cookbook Steeped, all about cooking with tea, I entered a raffle with the publisher, Andrews McMeel, and won! The cookbook is really just as lovely as I expected it to be. Shiny and pretty on the outside (it would make a great gift), it’s full of unexpected tea related recipes – including many dishes that I’ve book marked to try: Earl Grey Yogurt Parfaits, Chamomile Corn Chowder, Forbidden Chai Horchata, Cauliflower steaks with tea umami sauce, and California tea leaf salad to name a few.

Fortified with my new tea stash, and after several triathlon classes (a duathlon last weekend, and a sprint tri this weekend) as one does?!, I spent the rest of my past few weekends reading through several of my new acquisitions.

Global Meatballs

The top of the stack there is my friend Adeline’s new cookbook: Global Meatballs. We met in San Francisco, just around the time that she started working for Tartine bakery. Which, on that note, did you see the news a few weeks ago about the Tartine and Blue Bottle deal? I must admit that I was gobsmacked.  Adeline’s blog, Kitchen Roots, highlights her vegetable forward cooking style, and is a total pleasure to read. She has a lot of paleo and generally dairy-free recipes, but the focus is on vegetables! Which, of course, go particularly well with the dinner-time favorite: meatballs! Some of the recipes I put in my notes to try include the lamb meatballs with baked yogurt sauce, pistachio lamb meatballs with sweet and sour pomegranate glaze (I really love lamb!), and Scandinavian fiskeboller. There are actually a large selection of vegetarian balls in here as well. Good stuff!

Below Global Meatballs, we have James Ramsden’s Love Your Lunchbox, lunch, of course, being my favorite meal, and a few forays into modern cuisine and culinary theory with Cook It Raw, a retrospective book of the annual avant-garde chef gathering, and Christian Puglisi’s Relae: A Book of Ideas (so much in here!)

A Modern Way to Eat Cookbook by Anna Jones

Vegetables really have been at the top of mind, because I took the plunge and re-signed up for my favorite work-share farm CSA again this year. Unlike the urban CSAs where a sanitized box is dropped off at your house, this farm requires that you actually come *pick* about half of your weekly (or bi-weekly share). While I don’t really have the time or resources to garden on a regular basis, I’ve been yearning for time spent in the dirt. I’ve already started stocking up on Ziplocks, pyrex, old yogurt containers, and plastic bags to deal with my forthcoming haul. In anticipation of a glut of vegetables, I read through Sarah Britton’s My New Roots, and have been thrilled with the truly phenomenal a modern way to eat by Jamie Oliver protegé Anna Jones. It’s currently making the rounds on the food blogs, and for good reason. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this cookbook.

And finally, one last book to note: the brand new Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Cheryl is an internet friend who I was longing to meet in real life – and finally had the pleasure to last week on her book tour! This was another first for me – I finally made my way in to Boston’s very own cookbook shop – Farm & Fable. (Long story short, before working in startups in Boston, my dream had been to open my own cookbook store – when Farm & Fable managed to beat me to it. I had spent a year fretting about going in, thinking that I might have a meltdown, but not only was it lovely, but now I can’t even be grumpy anymore, because Abby Ruettgers, the owner, is pretty much the best.) If you like yogurt, you must buy this book.

Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule

Happy week! What have you been cooking?

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Spring Commitments: Healthy Habits

April 25th, 2015 · Wellness

This was a list I wrote for myself at the beginning of the year, and now that we’re out of the doldrums of winter, I decided I needed to re-read, re-commit to, and wanted to share with you all. A little accountability never hurts! 

10 Healthy Habits to Start in 2015

Of course we all know the truth about healthy living – there is no quick fix, or special pill that will “just magically work this time”. Healthy living takes good old fashioned hard work, smart eating, and exercise. But it’s slightly more complicated than that: most often, we know what to do to improve our health and well being, but we just don’t commit to doing it! Nothing on this list is new – but if you are looking to make changes this year, consider choosing 2-3 of the items on this list, and really focusing on them. Write them in your planner. Set a daily alarm. Make a small change, and see how far it gets you!

1. Focus on hydration.

You don’t need to be drinking glasses of water all day long – you can actually hydrate with soup, herbal or decaf tea, . If it helps, stick to a schedule (and if you work in an office place, you might use this as an excuse to head to the proverbial water cooler and get a quick stretch break in!

2. Commit to regular movement.

We all know that sitting for long hours is detrimental to health – but even if you are quite active, sitting for a long stretch of time during one part of the day can still be detrimental! I currently have my Jawbone Up24 set to gently buzz after any 15 minute stretch of inactivity.

3. Make this year the year of quality sleep.

Start by turning off the electronics. Let your phone charge outside your room, and read a book before bed. If you need an alarm, consider a device such as a Jawbone (see above) which can gently buzz you awake, or an alarm watch. Make your room your haven, sleep in full darkness, and keep your room cool. If you can, adopt an official “bed time”, and stick to it.

4. Take long walks.

Not for exercise, but for your brain. Let yourself relax and recharge. If you don’t have time for long walks, start with short ones: brisk 15 minute walks. If you are not used to the quiet of nature, listen to a podcast: I’m currently enjoy Serial, RadioLab, the Balanced Bites podcast, and the Tim Ferriss podcast.

5. Get your sh*t together. It’s actually a great website to help you organize the important details in life: money, insurance, wills, and more.

Reduce stress by arming yourself with resources – while you are at it, if you need to learn more about setting up a healthy financial system, I highly recommend Ramit Sethi’s “I Will Teach You to be Rich” – which covers the gambit of personal finance in a very clear and actionable format.

6. Reinvigorate your workouts by choosing new things to explore – try one new class or activity a month. Or start a workout habit!

Consider a Couch to 5k plan this spring. If you live in a major metropolitan city and have a little bit to spend – sign up for ClassPass (which allows you to take fitness classes in hundreds of boutique fitness studios). Go Indoor Bouldering. Or to an indoor trampoline park. Or take a surfing lesson. Love running, swimming, and biking? Sign up for a Sprint Triathlon!

7. Enlist accountabili-buddies.

Okay, or just friends – to help you achieve new goals. An active social net is proven to help you achieve more than you might on your own. Consider signing up for a group running club, or start a walking group in your office. Or maybe you want to read more in 2015? Start a book club!  Or a cookbook club!

8. Practice gratitude.

Consider ending your day taking a few minutes to write down 1-3 things that were meaningful to you. Gratitude helps us to appreciate what we have, but has also been scientifically shown to increase happiness! (Consider an extension in the workplace – a simple exercise of “what worked well” can also be an effective tool to improve processes.

9. Set short term, medium, and long term goals to help you achieve more in 2015.

Goal setting can be an effective practice to help you get more done in all aspects of your life. Break down large goals into smaller ones, by setting short term goals that are achievable on a small time frame. This can apply to weight loss (.5 to 2 pounds a week), to a running goal (working your way up to a mile), to a ‘BHAG’ – big, hairy, audacious goal. By focusing on our visions, we get ourselves much closer to great things than by simply waiting for chance.

10. Commit to practicing self care.

Massages. Long baths. Scheduled exercise. Healthy meals. Maybe you are the type of person who puts others first – by committing to putting your self first with self care, you help yourself to be a better person for both you and others. Some ideas for self care here on Pinterest.

What are some of your favorite healthy habits? Are there any on this list that you have trouble sticking with in particular?

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Aussie Lamb at Tremont 647 + a Tomato Braised Lamb Recipe

March 30th, 2015 · Boston, Meat, Restaurants

Tomato Braised Lamb with Cannelini Beans

Disclaimer: when I started blogging, my goal was to get out and eat on a regular basis, and I tried to hit up any event that would have me. I got into this game to eat, and now, I’m boring and more of a homebody, so I try to only say yes to things that I know in advance that I’ll love. So take this at face value – this isn’t sponsored, but I wittingly got myself into a situation where I acquired free Australian lamb, and then ate said lamb.

A few weeks ago, I headed to an industry event in the South End, at Andy Husbands’ Tremont 647 – a spring campaign for Australian lamb. (This was a total treat. Andy Husbands has been a lynchpin of the food community in Boston for a long time  – there aren’t too many restaurants that have been around for two decades under the helm of one person.)

After braving the then Hoth-like roads of the Greater Boston area, I managed to find parking in the South End less than 100 feet from the restaurant (this was at the tail end of the multiple storm situation, and parking was in short supply), and walked into the warm comfort of Tremont 647 on a pajama brunch morning. I was immediately give coffee (praise all that is good), got cozy at a table with Bianca, William, and Dan, and the gingerbread mini muffins, rosemary cornbread muffins, and sticky buns which were put right infront of me.

Tremont 647 Sticky Buns The Second Lunch

As Dan tried to tell me about Snapchat, the demo got started. [A brief note, I have now downloaded snapchat. After realizing a bot had taken my moniker that I use on every form of social media, I became deeply distressed, and have not opened it again since. It makes me feel old and crotchety.] For our demo, we watched Master Butcher Doug Piper expertly break down the back half of a lamb. And by expertly, I mean, to a level of skill that made me uncomfortable. His knife was outrageously sharp, but I’m pretty sure with his abilities, he could have done it with a dull blade, and mind control.

Tremont 657 Doug Piper Aussie Lamb Demo

While we watched, and discussed the taste, environmental impact, and general topic of Australian lamb, we also got to eat it. Everyone got some lamb pastrami on toast with mustard and sauerkraut made of brussels sprouts (smart!). We each got to choose our meals, and I went with the Tremont 647 classic Huevos Rancheros, while Bianca ordered the lamb sausage breakfast sandwich right across from me.

Tremont 647 Lamb Pastrami Tremont647 Huevos Rancheros

After filling ourselves to the gills, we were each sent home with a cooler bag of lamb. I’ve been eating lamb all winter with my meat share, and largely been doing the same thing each time: braising it in a jar of Rao’s marinara. It’s truly the best sauce on the market. I buy it in quantity any time I see it on sale at the store. The recipe is another two ingredient deal – lamb and sauce, three if you add garlic. You can gussy it up, of course, sometimes I’ll add beans at the end, or some carrots and potato.

Tomato and Garlic Braised Lamb

It goes particularly well on a vegetable noodle – I’ve been on a kick lately, as you may have noticed. (As a side note, Inspiralized, the book, just came out, and I’m currently reading through my copy.)

Tomato Braised Lamb over Zucchini Noodles

Tomato Braised Lamb

This recipe is how I cook lamb the most often – nestled in a tomato sauce. You can make it with thick braising cuts of lamb, or lamb stew meat, but I most often make it with lamb shanks, which I’ll cook, and then strip off the bone before serving. I reserve the bones and marrow for myself as cooks treat. Like all braises, it tastes best when you let it rest after cooking overnight in the refrigerator, remove the hardened fat once cooled, and reheat it the next day for dinner. I like it plain, served over zucchini noodles, or sometimes I’ll add a can of cannelini beans in the final half hour of cooking.

assorted lamb pieces, 2 – 5 lbs.
1 large jar Rao’s Marinara, or your favorite sauce (32 ounces)
several cloves garlic
salt and pepper

Generously season your lamb with salt and pepper.  I like my meat to come to room temperature with the seasoning on it before cooking, but if you are in a hurry, and want to cook right out of the fridge, that’s fine. In a large skillet, pour half of the marinara sauce, and nestle the seasoned lamb into the sauce, pouring the rest around the pieces. Nestle in several cloves of garlic (as many as you’d like). On medium high heat, bring the skillet to simmering, cover, and turn down to just under medium. Cook the lamb for at minimum 45 minutes for small pieces, up to a few hours for large steaks and shanks, until the meat is tender. If I’m cooking shanks, or larger pieces, I’ll flip the pieces a few times during cooking, about every 45 minutes.

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