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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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The Second Lunch Week 2/1 – 2/7

February 8th, 2015 · Boston, Races, Restaurants

Fleck Coffee Newton Highlands

Hello from the impending blizzard zone! Yes, more snow. More Snow. Snowwwww. Why do I live here? This week I’ve been braving the weather to try out some new places, head to some food events, and even squish in a few races! Last we left off, I was making a game plan for January: lots of braising, healthy salads, meal planning, and gym going. Lofty goals. I knew it was going to be bad on January 5th, a coworker mentioned that I had been posting a lot on my blog. “That’s not going to last, is it….” ah, votes of confidence. Thanks. Of course he was right – it’s been a long, cold, month, and I didn’t think that anyone would want to hear my complaints about the MBTA. There was a lot of bitterness and salty language. California, I miss you. (You too, California friends.)

This month I’ve done little to drag myself out of the house. It’s been a lot of pathetic pantry meals. A few too many take out meals. And a whole lot of sitting on the couch. So last week after getting some energy back on my trip to Portland, Maine, I decided to get myself out, visit the new super shiny Whole Foods South End (it’s great), run a race, and meet up with some bloggers. Some of my favorite activities!

Of course, life is better caffeinated. With my dwindling coffee supply – both fresh beans from Portland, and my shameful comfort coffee (Trader Joe’s Gingerbread) being done for the season, I decided that I’d try out the new Fleck Coffee right at the Newton Highlands T-stop, because they were giving away free coffee this weekend…. and… free coffee! They brew Counter Culture, and I’m all for local coffee shops! They officially open on Monday, and keep hours of 6am – 4pm daily.

On the fitness front, I decided that I needed to “train” for my upcoming Hyannis Half marathon, so on a whim I signed up for the Super Sunday 5k and 5 miler, and ran it with my friend Matt. How do you dress for a race that has a real feel of around 5? Like a ninja. My super secret trick is to treat myself to hand warmers in my gloves for a cold winter run. I hoard hot hands like I’ll be living in the polar vortex for all time. This race was fun, cold, and flat!

Super Sunday 5k and 5 Miler

The other reason that I signed up on a whim for a freezing cold race is that I was heading to a Boston Brunchers blogger brunch at Beat Hôtel (Beat Brasserie), and needed to work off some of those calories before eating ALL OF THE FOODS. The fine print: Boston Brunchers events come with free brunch (although generous tip is always provided), and provide me a comfortable space to take as many photos of my food as I want, without any of my dining partners judging me.

Beat Hôtel is in the old Tannery space in Harvard Square, and despite it’s convenient location, I really don’t get out all that much, and hadn’t been there yet. It’s the same team behind the South End’s Beehive, and they have jazz brunch on the weekends. The space is big and airy, and they have large tables for groups of friends. Another thing to note, I was a little out of it after running my race, and after rushing in to say hi to folks, I didn’t actually notice that the music was live until I turned around to look at the glowing purple stage (I mention this because, one, the live band was very good – and two, the acoustics are very well set up for the room – somehow I was sitting directly next to a drum kit and could still hear my dining partners conversation.)

Beat Hotel Brasserie Bar Live Jazz Brunch

We managed to get a good sampling of their brunch fare – starting off with the Bohemian Platter (hummus, dips, salads, cheese, pickled vegetables, and olives) – the photo in the top right. It was a plentiful platter, but the star for me was this really brilliant pickled radish. Yep, a superlative radish. The absolute winner of brunch was the Buffalo Cauliflower with blue cheese dipping sauce. This being Super Bowl Sunday, one of my dining partners actually took home an extra order, and I regretted not doing the same.

For our meals, we tried quiche, a few Benedicts, and I ordered the Shakshuka with merguez. Now, I do have high standards for Shakshuka, and while this didn’t make my top two of all time (my own, and the Shakshuka from Sofra), it was good! The merguez was neither here nor there, but it came with wobbly eggs served over this wonderfully creamy polenta. Plus, extra points for a beautiful presentation. (Bottom left.)

Beat Hotel Boston Brunchers Brunch

If you go to Beat Brasserie, please order the Buffalo Cauliflower. I will be returning specifically for this dish.

Before I leave you, here’s my meal plan for the week:

Sunday: lamb shanks with Ranch Gordo beans
Monday: chicken with cauliflower potato curry
Tuesday: deconstructed shepherds pie (Cook Smarts)
Wednesday: Shakshuka
Thursday: chicken soba noodles
Friday: Out

New Englanders, best of luck tonight in the storm.

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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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